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Introduction 1 

A Zoroastrian Musician in Dorset 4 

Aiound Kaikhosru Sorabji 9 

Opus Clavicembalisticutn - a Brief History 21 

Shortform-Analysis of Opus Clavicembalistictun 28 

Opus Clavicembaiisticum - a Critical Analysis 37 

Kaikhosru Sorabji and Herman Melville 72 

Notes on the Life and Cateer of Sorabji 80 

Chronological List of Works 84 


On the 4th of May, 1985, 1 received a hastily typewritten letter: 
"Dear Mi. Rke, 

Go straight ahead with the proposed recording 
of my Opus Clavicembaiisticum. No objections at all. 
Yours sincerely, 
K.S. Sorabji." 

Sorabji's so-called 'ban' on the performance of his music stemmed from his hchet that the music is 
"for serious performers and serious hsteners only." The fact that he consented to performances and 
recordings since 1976 indicates that towards the end of his life he came to believe that the time might 
be right for the music to be made public, and, indeed, that he wanted it to be heard. 1 do not believe 
that any composer writes music intending it not to be heard, least of all the creator of such vital, 
compellii^ music as Sorabji's. For all its overpublicised complexity, it is the opposite of obsciu:e. It 
has the power to grip an audience, arouse extraordinary tensions, and precipitate their release in 
tumultuous ovarion. Mere cerebral note-complex weavii^ cannot achieve this. If diere is still 
resistance to Sorabji's music in the minds of the public and their guiding critics and commentators, 
it must be due ro misconceptions. Firstly, there is danger in being too different, and not admitting of 
ready comparisons with well-understood musical trends. Most of the argument in human thought 
is by comparison and analogy, and comprehension is almost always achieved by argument, in the 
broadest sense of the word. To encounter a nuisical vocabulary which does not fit snugly into a 
disctissioii of the e\olving musical styles of the Twentieth century must be very galling to certain 
orderly-minded individuals who do not like to have to evaluate things on their own terms without 
the benefit of the prompting of received opinion. "Why do 1 write as I do? Why did (and do) the 
artist-craftsmen of Iran, India, China, Byzantine-Arabic Sicily ... produce the sort of elaborate 
highly wrought work they did? That was their way. It is also mine. If you don't like it . . . that is just 
too bad, but not for me, who couldn't care less." Such ferocious independence of spirit has earned 
Sorabji not a few enemies in a world of feshionable conformity. Secondly, there is the pioblem 
of Sorabji's absolute refusal to disclose in verbal detail what his music is 'about'. It has become 
fashionable for modem composers to tell us — in words — exacdy what they want us to hear in their 
music. If, as Carl Nielsen said, "music is the sound of life", then this is a fundamentally imhelpfiil 


distortion, since no aspect of life can be expected glibly to yield up its secrets in the reading of the 
printed paragraph of a programme note. Ronald Stevenson has written of one of his own major 
compositions that it may appear like the map of a life, expressed in music. (Note the absence of detail 
in this description; every listener's life has its own chronography, so the supply of ideas to be 'found' 
in such a piece, viewed in such a way, is inexhaustible). Sorabji's compositions, like vast tracts of life, 
are to be lived through, and the listener must extract what understanding he or she can from the 
experience. Of course there will be ambiguity, complexity, and an absence of comfortable solutions. 
This will always be so, except for those who observe the world from a viewpoint of ill£uitiie 
simplicity, and see life in black and white. There will also be the indescribable richness of sensation 
is available to us all, and which the greatest composers take the trouble to try to describe to the 
test of us. 

An important task remains; to acknowledge the unique powers of the performer on this recording. 
John Ogdon is the ideal interpreter for this music. He has transcended the bounds, not only of 
conventional pianism, but of conventional musicianship in his interpretation, both intellectual and 
emotional, of the work, and in his technical execution of the formidable task whose end result is 
before you. 

I am very gready indebted to Alistair Hinton for his assistance during the preparation of this 



Siw October. 1988 

John Ogdon with Ronald Stevenson, 1985. 
Copyright ©1 985, C.H.R. 


A Zoxoastrian Musician in Dorset 

Ronald Stevenson 

A creative musician in Britain is a rarity, an outsider. So a Zoroa^trian musician in Britain is a 

positive miracle. 

Or iit Icasr a curiosity. 

A curiosity invites curiosity. So 1 shall assume that the iiiviiatiou to the reader's curiosity has been 
accepted and that he will read these pages in the spirit ol Haroun ai Raschid, looking for adventure. 

It was not only old Khayyam wiio bade us "leave the Lot / Of Kaikobad and Kaikliosru forgot". 
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji is not so much forgot as unknown. That he should have remained so, is 
a serious indictment of the contemporary world of music. 

Sorabji is emphatically unlike the Englishman, whose face, once seen, is never remembered. 

Already, before we discuss his music, his name makes a music for us, all its own. It is a name as 
strange to Western ears 3S an English name must be unspeakably dull to Eastern ears. Kaikhosru 
Shapurji Sorabji — they are eponymic names from the Iranian pantheon. Let us take them 

KAIKHOSRU = Persian for King Cyrus the Great of Persia; founder of the Persian Empire; a true 

upholder of the Zoroastrian religion. 

This name is svtnbolic of Sorabji the innovator and Sorabji the conservator. It is the cypher of his 
lofty aloofness from Milton's "miscellaneous rabble who extol / Things vulgar ". It is also an earnest of 
his credo, that of the ancient Zarathustra, which precedes Christ by a whole millennium. 

SHAPURJI = 'Son of the King'. 

The regality of the (irst name is underlined by the second, to make assurance doubly sure. Here we 
have to do with no milk-and-water democrat. Here is a musician for the Temple, not for the concert 
hall. And, as Ezra Pound reminds us. 


The temple 1 1 1 is holy, because it is not for sale. 

SORABJI - an equation which a few words cannot contain, but which the following thoughts may 
go some way towards clarifying. Sorabji is a Parsi, a Zoroastrian from India, but not of it. On a 
postcard to the authot, he has elucidated this point with charactetistic brio; 

"The English (the stupidest race in Europe, Kayserling called them) call anyone who comes 
FROM India but not OF it ... INDIAN ... as who should call a kitten emerging from a dog kennel 
a puppy? ... They would if they were goddamfools like the English." 
(One learns to expect no eirenicon from Sorabji. His Ubations are vials of vitriol.) 

. His ancestral roots were in Irdn, Spain and Sicily. From ancient Itin he derives his richly ornate 
otaftsmanship and spiritual dedication to the highest; to Spain he owes his sombre and scintillating 
exoticism, which glows and flickers in the sable and sanguine colours of his music; and from Sicily he 
inherits his fierce independence of spirit. 

Race — not 'racism' — niatiers to him. The waters that have flowed between the countries of his 
amphibious birthright have nor diluted his blood. To him, borders are FRONTIERS. 

He has set himself to guard the frontiers of art. His watchtower is Corfe Casrie, Dorset, where he 
has lived long in superb solitude. 1 hat watchtower is not a 'tower of ivory': ir is a granite tower. In a 
world that is a stage, as Shakespeare saw it, or a village, as l.eopardi saw it, and which is now in 
'danger of becoming a monstrous 'Siibtopia' of fiuietional tubular girders — scath)lding and scaffold 
B "for millions of hollow men — Sorabji is seciue and sane in his metaphysical granitic tower. His 
uniqueness is not madness: the madness is what surrounds us. It behoves us not to accuse such a man 
of madness in this twentieth century, which resembles Lilliput more and more every day. Sorabji, 
physically small, is spiritually large. In a day of quasi-universal pygmean scale, when men's spiritual 
Stature seems in inverse proportion to their scientific discoveries, perhaps Sorabji is bound to appear 
eccentric. He is certainly 'outside the circle' if the circle is taken to mean the dull diurnal round of 
brilliant mediocrity. And, though his largesse of genius made him a superlative critic in the pages of 
'The New Age' and in many learned (and not-so-learned) journals of music you must not expect to 
find him in the Grand Circle of Critics. Nor will you come upon him in the Grand Circle at the 
Festival Hall, nor in the Albert Hall, for he hates concerts that 'promote' (like a boxing-match) music 
which he does not wish to hear, and that are 'patronised' by people whom he does not want to meet. 
But if by 'circle' you mean somethii^ like what Goethe meant when he spoke of 'world citizenship' 


and 'world language', than you must take account of Sorabji; and he will be inside that circle, not 
outside it, because that circle will be big enough to include him. His distinguished ancestry and his 
unique creative gift are twin points of a compass that describes a circle which embraces both Orient 
and Occident. A navigator determines his position b\- rclcrcncc to the east; then, accotdingly, to all 
points of the compass. It is not for nothing that this is called 'orientation'. Sorabji, like 
C. M. Doughty, indicates the emergent significance of the East for the West. Western art needs a new 
orientation; it has been waiting ready for whole millennia in the East. 

The difficulty of writing about Sorabji is that one's prose threatens to become cornucopean in the 
attempt to say something about SO abundant a creative enei^. To attempt to write about him in one 
language is like trying to contain the seven seas in one pail, or a djinn in a bottle. One finds oneself 
becoming multilingual out of necessity, not out of a jejune emulation of the literary style of Ezra 
Pound. No ordinary book can be written about such an extraordinary man and musician as Sorabji: 
it must at least be a heptaglot! This clamant question of words is a hard one — as hard as the couch 
of words itself For couched words must be. And the role of accoucheur is never without at least the 
possibility of hazard. We glimpse the difficulty as soon as we tackle the question of Sorabji's racial 
background and are obliged to invoke the names of Iran, Spain and Sicily. 

There is a sense in which artists, throughout the world, form a race of their own, a race apart, like 
a lost tribe. Certainly, the history of music is bedevilled by a peculiar type of schizophrenia unknown 
to the psychiatrist. One finds it cropping up in all the 'histories' when the historian braves the 
quicksands of original genius: such men as Berlioz, Liszt, Chopin, Mahler, Delius, Busoni ... and 
Sorabji, among others. To take a few: Berlioz is totally unlike any other French composer; both Poland 
and France claim Chopin; Busoni — a pure Italian — was known as a German in Italy and as 
an Italian in Germany. But the umbilical cord cannot connect to more than one placenta; 
fundamentally, every great artist is nourished by one country. It has nothing to do with leagues of 
distance (or of nations). As in the Hans Andersen story, every great artist is connected to his 
spiritual source by an invisible umbilical cord, and the further he travels away from that source, the 
more it hurts him and the more his art sutlers. 

So Sorabji is a Parsi composer, domiciled in Dorset. He loathes lexicographers, so expect to find 
no data here. (You will find little elsewhere, and what you find will baffle extremely). He has 
composed the longest symphonic works in the literature of music. If they were merely great in length. 


they would hardly warrant comment; but as some people believe they are great in content, the 
reader must be prepared not to overlook what can only appear as a very strange case indeed — a 
Zoroastrian musician in Dorset! — but positively to accept it, to give it credence, fabulous and 
legendary as it all sounds, and to conserve patience in the hope of discovering what some artists 
(among them John Ireland, York Bowen, Roger Quilter, Edmund Rubbra, Delius, Sir Osbert and 
Sir Sacheverell Sitwell, Sir William Walton, Frarids George Scott, Hugh M'Diarmid, Alban Berg, 
Sir Donald Francis Tovey, Ernest Newman and Busoni) believed to be a considerable contribution to 
the history of music. 

Copyright ©1961 Ronald Stevenson 
revised 1988. 

Kaikhosru Sorabji, 1988. 

Copyright ©1988, C.J. Spencer-Bentley. 


Azound Kaikhosru Soiahji 

AliBtair Hint on 

Sorabji's life-story is hardly rhc snitl of which best-sellers are made, short as it is on such essentials 
as scandals, public image-making, opportunism and the like. For all his phenomenal creative and 
performing gifts, the ways of the international jct-scr virmoso and of the cult-composer were never 
his. The horror of appearing at large gatherings of people, the desire to protect his music from the 
unwelcome attentions of ill-equipped performers and listeners, and the deep distaste for the 
indulgence in hype, especially self-hype, of creative musicians are just a few of the things that made 
Sorabji the intensely private man he always was. The Scottish poet, friend and contemporary (almost 
to the day) of Sorabji, Hugh M'Diarmid, ends his chapter on the composer in his book The 
Company I've Kept (1966) with this paragraph: — 

"A great composer, a great critic and a prince among men, I know nothing about Sorabji 
(none of the particulars men usually know of each other, family affeirs, education, hobbies, 
etc.) — nothing, but 1 think everything that matters, everything, as Jeeves would say, 
that is 'of the essence'." 

Sorabji s \iic could hardly be described as uneventful, though almost all the major events in it are 
his very few public appearances as a performer and his very many musical compositions and essays. 
The quiet dignity essential to the truly great creative/recreative artist is given expression in Sorabji's 
essays 'Performance versus Celebration' and 'Attitudes of Mind towards Music.'' The well-ordered and 
harmonious private life without die benefit of which, he believed, such an artist cannot be fiilly 
prepared to meet the supreme spiritual, intellectual and physical demands made upon him by his 
■work, is touched upon in his chapter on Bernard van Dieren.^ Malcolm Boyd's article on Medtner 


(a composer much admired by Sorabji) in the 1980 edition of Grove ends with this sentence that 
could equally well be appUed to Sorabji himself: "[Medtnet's] dedication to what lie considered the 
immutable laws of his art was such that for him composition amounted almost to a profession of faith 
and, despite its strong appeals to the emotions, his music has a priestly quality to which not everyone 
can respond." The rationale behind Sorabji's strongly self-imposed way of life is perhaps best and most 
succinctly summed up in his essay 'U Gran Rifiuto'.^ 

Needless to say, Sorabji almost always refused interviews with journalists and often made a point 
of providing misleading information about himself to lexicographers. He did take part in recoided 
interviews for the BBC for the centenaries in 1980 of Medtner and the Scots composer Francis 
George Scott, but the only noteworthy exception to his rule concerning interviews about himself 
occurred in 1977, when London Weekend Television made a programme about him. However, on 
that occasion, he insisted on a number of conditions being met before consenting to this interview — 
firstly that it should take place in his own home in Dorset; secondly that no live filming be done (and 
he permitted still photographs only after some persuasion); thirdly, that under no circumstances 
woiild he play the piano during its course; and lasdy that he reserved the right to terminate it as soon 
as he saw fit. The exception proved the rule with a vengeance in this instance. The interview 
nevertheless did take place, although a good many of the questions, reasonable as they were, turned 
out to be both longer and less pndly than his answers. The programme, presented by the 
interviewer, Russell Harty, and which also included contributions from Sir Sacheverell Sitwell, Yonty 
Solomon, Felix Aprahamian and myself, was shown, though Sorabji, who never possessed or wished 
to possess a television set, neither saw it nor wanted to see it. 

The majority of journalists no doubt view the prospect of interviewing the purposeful (and, in this 
case, purposefully) inaccessible figure of importance as a challenge, even when no such 'challenge' is 
actually being set by the potential subject of such an interview. Much has been made of Sorabji's 
alleged 'eccentricity' in his hard-line attitudes over such matters. 1 have even heard him described on 
one occasion as a 'typical crusty English eccentric', although it seems hard to imagine how a 
Parsi born of an Indian father could manage to quaUfy as anything 'English'. Admittedly, it is perhaps 
equally hard to imi^ne any composer besides Sorabji issuing such a printed notice as the fbllowii^ — 




"Dates and places of birth relating to myself given in various works of reference are 
invariably hise. 

"It is also stated that my name, my real name, diat is the one I am known by, is not 
my teal name. Now one is given one's name — one's authentic ones — at some such 
ceremony as baptism, Christenii^, or the like, on the occasion of one's formal reception into 
a certain religious Faith. In the ancient Zarathustrian Parsi community to which, on my 
father's side, I have the honour to belong, this ceremony is normally performed, as in other 
Faiths, in childhood, or owing to special circumstances as in my case, later in life, when I 
assumed my name as It now is or, in the words of the legal document in which this is 
mentioned "... received into the Parsi community and in accordance with the custom and 
tradition thereof, is now and will be henceforth known as ..." and here follows my name as 

"Certain lexicographical canaille, one egregious and notorious specimen 
particularly, enraged at my complete success in defeating and frustratii^ their impudent 
impertinent and presumptuous nosings and pryings into what does not concern them, and 
actuated no doubt by the mean malice of the base bom for their betters, have thought, as 
they would say, to take out it of me by si^esting that my name isn't really my name. 

"Insects that are merely noisome like to think that they can also sting." 

with its underlining handwritten postscript (from Pope): — 

"But let me flap this bug with gilded wings, 
This painted child of dirt that stinks and stings." 

Sorabji, however, was no poseur, no image-maker or headline-creator. He simply took a view 
diametrically opposed, it would appear, firom that of Grainger and, more particularly, perhaps. 


from some of our present-day musicologists, in regard to this aspect of 'composer exposure'. He never 
sought to diarise his Ufe and the prospect of autobiography would have appalled and disgusted him. 
He once put to me the rhetotical question of whether, and if so, to what extent, a foreknowledge of 
the syphilis and grave mental depression suffered respectively by Wolf and Duparc is essential to a 
thorough understanding of the work of two of Europe's greatest song-composers, adding that an 
awareness of what Gesualdo and Mozart got up to in their private lives or the manner in which 
Wagner treated many of those around him would likewise be useless tovrards an appreciation of the 
music of those composers. "All that matters", as he often pointed out, "is the music itself and one's 
intellectual and emotional response to it. The rest is mere muck-raking, is of interest only as such and 
is the concern only of the muck-rakers and their mindless readership." M'Diarmid clearly shares 
Sorabji's attitudes here, in the suggestion that he not only 'knows nothing' but also feels no need to 
know anything of the details of Sorabji's lifestyle. 

There are some precedents here, of course. Sorabji's decision to put an end to his public appearances 
as a pianist is, in a way, reminiscent of the similar attitudes of two of the 19th century's greatest 
pianists, Liszt (in later life) and Alkan (during most of his life). Indeed, Alkan's general reclusiveness 
has soinething in common with that of Sorabji. In more recent times, two giants of the keyboard, 
Horowia and Michelangeli, for one reason or another, spent considerably more time off the concert 
platform than on it, so to speak. The chief difference here is that Sorabji's last public recital in 
December 1936 remained his last. Schumann's famous cri de coeur to the critics "... pick out the fifths 
and leave us in peace" appears to share something with Sorabji's attitudes towards what he calls the 
"muck-rakers". The French composer Magnard shunned all publicity where his music was concerned, 
though he did not go as far as Sorabji and place an all-out embargo on public performances of his 
work without his prior consent. The copious creativity of Ives and Brian was thwarted respectively 
only by the onset of illness and the onset of old age, rather than by the lack of performances. 
Skalkottas spent the last one-third or so of his short life composing at considerable speed a vast body 
of works not only without specific performance prospects but, it would seem, without even telling 
those closest to him that he was doing so. In this respect, Skalkottas perhaps went even further than 
Sorabji who, at least in letters to close friends, at times mentioned a little about what he had 
recently completed and what he was currendy working on (though rarely in much detail). 


The brief article on Sorabji in the 1949 edition of the Oscar Thompson International Cyclopedia 
of Music and Musicians speaks of "... the composer's conviction being that music should be 
accessible only to those of the highest skill." Whilst this is not in itself untrue, as a casual ^ance at 
almost any of Sorabji's bigger scores will demonstrate, two things muit first be properly understood. 
With regard to the skills required by performer and listener alike, Sorabji has never gone out of his 
way to create difficulties in order to render his woric more remote and recondite, having not the 
slightest inteiest in either difficulty or simplicity for dieir own sakes, and the fact that learning his 
major works no more fits into a perfiDrmer's usual schedules than the works themselves fit into 
normal concert programmes is a difficulty Sorabji saw as imposed not by himself but by the 
conventions of the concert career as it is generally understood. Also, on the matter of accessibility, 
Sorabji saw his compositions as intended for a small circle of his close friends rather than for general 
consumption by the concertgoing public. These friends included, in the main, the dedicatees of his 
works, although in most cases, unless fortunate enough to hear Sorabji playing them, even they have, 
for the most part (at least until recently) had to be content only with the knowledge of their existence 
and the honour of the dedication. James Payn wrote of"... the well-nigh universal habit of literary 
lying and pretence of admiration for certain works of which in reality we know very litde, and for 
which, if we knew more, we should perhaps care even less." ' It is but a short distance between this 
idea and that of Sorabji illustrating his lack of interest in public approbation by saying that he 
cannot possibly concern himself with responses to his work from listeners "of whom he knows 
nothing, and of whom, if he knew more, he would care even less." 

However, to return to the matter of events in Sorabji's life: one occasion of great importance, 
which Sorabji certainly regarded as such, was his one meeting in London in 1919 with Busoni. At 
this stage, the 27-year-old Sorabji had to his credit four piano concertos (and was contemplating 
another), a number of songs and a few piano works including the Fantaisie espagnole and the First 
Piano Sonata. Sorabji asked Busoni if he could help him get the sonata published but only after 
Busoni had insisted on hearing the younger composer, despite his protests of modesty, play it to him, 
virith the words "Never mind, do what you can; music is, after all, to be heard, and I cannot play it." 


So we have on the one hand Sorabji's belief in his music being intended and suitable only for a 
small circle of like-minded friends and, on the other, Busoni's statement to him "music is, after all, to 
be heard." Since the mid-1970s when Sorabji began consenting to certain public performances, 
broadcasts and recordings of his music, the opportunity has been afforded to us to discover which of 
the two men was right. Sorabji's music is never likely to suffer the fate of the sort of mass public appeal 
that has befallen such works as Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Beethoven's Fitth Symphony and the first and 
second piano concertos respectively by Tchaikovsky and Rakhmaninov through no &ult attributable 
to those composers. It has, nevertheless, become abundandy clear that those of Sorabji's works which 
have now been heard have touched the emotions and intellects of a far greater number of those "of 
whom he knew nothing" than he would have believed possible. 

Copyright ©1988 Alistair Hinton 
Revised 2002 

1. From "Around Music" (Unicorn Press, 1932) 

2. From "Mi Contra Fa" (Porcupine Press, 1947) 

3. From "Some Private Views" (Ixjndon, 1881) 

In December 1959, John Ogdon gave a private performance of Opus Clavicemballstlcum at Ronald Stevenson's 
house in West Linton, Scotland. This was the only occasion on which the work was played to flia dedicatee, 
Christopher Grieve (Hugh M'DlarmId). This ramarkahio series of photographs, taken during this unique event, are by 
ttw Edinburgh photographer, Helmut Petzseh. Copyright ®1959, Helmut Petzsch. 


Ogdon, Grieve, Stevenson 

Stevenson, Grieve 

Ogdon, Grieve 


Ogdon, Grieve 

OpuB Clavicezahalisticum — a Brief History 


AliBiair Hinton 

Sorabji regarded his First Organ Symphony (1923-24) as his earliest truly personal and mature 
work, much as Busoni thought of his own Second Sonata for violin and piano. He said that, in 
retrospect, he regarded his earlier music as "efforts, not particularly successful, to find my direction 
as a composer", and it is perhaps fair to suggest that the nearest he ever came to a change of approach 
was between the quasi-expressionist near-atonal (at times) Second and Third Piano Sonatas and the 
first of his three monumental works for organ solo. Another mammoth work, the Variations and 
Fugue on 'Dies Irae' for piano (1923-26) (not to be confused with his even larger and much later 
Sequentia Cydica on the same theme), was dedicated to the memory of Busoni, to whom Sorabji 
had already dedicated his Km and Second Piano Sonatas. Whilst it might be misleading to over- 
estimate the growing influence of Busoni on Sorabji at this time (and it must be said that Busoni, 
though he admired Sorabji, did not find that what he heard of his music appealed to him 
personally, much as it fascinated him), the stylistic transition in Sorabji between his works before and 
after 1923 could be said to reflect a transition between the influence of Busoni of the Sonatina 
Seconda and Busoni of the Fantasia Contrappuntistica. 

The establishment in the mid- 1 920s of Sorabji's preoccupation with fiigal composition and with 
theme-and-variation form in general (and passacaglia-with-variations in particular) went hand in 
hand with an increasing awareness of the importance to him of the works of the Netherlands school, 
of Palestrina and most especially of Bach, and this at a time when he was gradually growing away 
from many of the trends in post-First- World- War European music. As a result, the foundation-stones 
for Opus ClavicembaUsticum could then be laid. 


Destined to be the crowning acliievement of his piano works thus far, the Opus was begun in 
1929. Its title was originally intended to be Opus Sequentiale, and its structural layout bears 
resemblances to that of Busoni's Fantasia G>ntnppimtistica, with the principal difference that the 
Sorabji work also takes in four short lai^y moto-perpetuo-Wke virtuosic movements and two massive 
sets of variations; furthermore, it is more dian seven times the size of Busoni's Fantasia. 

During the course of its composition, Sorabji's very dear Scots friend Erik Chisholm (who almost 
single-handedly was the Glasgow-based Active Society for the Propagation of Contemporary Music), 
began trying to persuade the composer to perform Opus Clavicembalisticum, once completed, in 
Glasgow. Chisholm, a composer himself and an astonishingly enterprising and courageous figure 
in Scottish musical life at that time, founded his Society for the purposes of attracting major 
international European composers to Scotland to talk about and perform their work. Amongst those 
who took part during the late 1920s and the 1930s were van Dieren, Bartok, Hindemith and 
Szymanowski, and Sorabji himself gave four performances for Chisholm in the Society's series of 

As work on the Opus continued apace, frequent correspondence between Sorabji and Chisholm 
recounted its progress, though not in much detail, and Sorabji gave the first of his performances for 
Chishoim's Society in the spring of 1930. On this occasion he gave the premiere (and the only 
performance until 2002) of his Fourth Piano Sonata. Despite their close fiiendship and mutual 
admiration, Chisholm had to do a good deal of sensitive and persuasive tactical manoeuvrii^ and 
Sorabji a good deal of heart-searching before the performance of Opus Gaivicembalisticuin could be 
agreed upon and scheduled. 

Sorabji's letter to Chisholm of 25.06.1930 includes the following paragraph: — 

"With a racking head and literally my whole body shaking as with ague I write 
this and tell you I have just this afternoon early finished Clavicembalisticum (252 pages — 
loi^ than Dies IRAE and immeasurably better ... the final Coda Stretta k an achievement 
with the 4 forms of each subject nmning throi^ die &bric linked with quotations of earlier 


fugue subjects declaimed with massive vehemence[.] the closing 4 pages are as cataclysmic 
and catastrophic as anything I've ever done — the harmony bites like nitric acid the 
counterpoint grinds like the mills of God to close finally on this implacable monosyllable: 


"I am the Spirit that denies!" 

But how it's drained me ... I feel like Christ when he said "Virtue has gone out of me!" And 
I too: all my courage, all my strength!!" 

Needless to say, the premiere of Opus Clavicembalisticum was received with suitable 
astonishment. This took place in Stevenson Hall, Glasgow, on December 1st, 1930, and the 
composer apparendy decided on the spur of the moment not to take the expected breaks between 
each of the work's three parts, for fiar of the possible consequences of interrupting his flow. 

Opus Clavicembalisticum was published in 1931 by Curwen of London. Waldheim-Eberle of 
Vienna were engaged to undertake the printing, and the edition, in spite of the composer's 
proof-reading, contains quite a number of errors throughout the course of its 252 large pages. 
Reviewers of this publication included Havergal Brian, Alec Rowley (in The IVIusical Times), Ralph 
Hill (in The Chesterian), Edmund Rubbra (in The Monthly Musical Record) and M. C. van de 
Rovaart (in the Dutch De Muziekbode). I he appearance of this monolith in print, priced at 
2 guineas, aroused much enthusiastic admiration and respect. 

The manuscript of the Opus was given by the composer to Erik Chisholm, who later gave it to 
the music library of the University of Cape Town, where he (Chishohn) had by that time become Dean 


of the Music Faculty. Curiously, a short analytical note on the work, together with a thematic index, 
appears in Sorabji's hand as an appendix to the manuscript. No clue is given as to why or for whose 
benefit he wrote this, and it seems to be a well-nigh unique instance of Sorabji relaxing somewhat his 
customary atdtude of "never apologise, never explain". In any event, it was not included in the 
publication of the Opus. Sorabji gave the proo& for publication to his dear firiend Norman Peterkin, 
whose heirs now own them. 

The next public performance appears to have been of its first part only This took place in March 

1936 in London when a well-meaning but sadly ill-equipped pianist distended it to at least twice 
its proper length. Edward Clarke Ashworth's review in The New English Weekly of this most 
unfortunate event bemoans the fact that the composer was not secured to give the performance, in 
place of the inadequate John Tobin. Humphrey Searle recalled that Tobin's account seemed to show 
no concept of the composer's intentions (Searle had previously studied the score with considerable 
interest), and that it was disappointingly unrecognisable as Sorabji. This mishap may have been a 
contributory factor to Sorabji's decision soon afterwards to place the embargo on public 
performances without his express permission, "no performance at all" as he put it, being "vastly 
preferable to an obscene travesty." 

An essay by Erik Chisholm with a descriptive catalogue of some of Sorabji's works, indudit^ a 
couple of ps^es on the Opus, was published by the Music Department of Oxford University Press in 
1939, shortly after they assumed the sole selling agency for Sorabji's published musical worics. 

The first truly masterly and detailed analysis of Opus Clavicembalisticum, including 35 music 

examples, was written by Scottish composer/pianist Ronald Stevenson in 1961 as part of a proposed 
symposium on Sorabji whose other contributors were John Ogdon and Hugh M Diarmid, dedicatee 
of the Opus. The analysis is published for the fitst time in the ptesent volume. Ogdon gave a private 
performance of the Opus in Stevenson's home in 1959 (29 years to the day after Sorabji's premiere) 
in the presence of Stevenson and M'Diarmid. Stevenson himself, whose astounding pianism is well 
known, must also have spent considerable time in those days practising the Opus (though he has 
never actually performed it). This analysis, made in the absence of any public performances. 


broadcasts or recordings and relying entirely on Stevenson's composet/pianist insights and on one 
private hearing of John Ogdon, is therefore all the more remarkable. Regrettably, the symposium was 
never published complete, although part of a discussion of Sorabji between its three contributots 
which was intended as one of its chapters was later included in M'Diarmid's book The Company I've 
Kept', in a chapter on the composer. The essays A Zoroastrian Musician in Dorset and Kaikhosru 
Sorabji and Herman Melville, reproduced in the ptesent publicadon, were also intended for 
inclusion in the symposium. 

Paid Rapoport's book Opus Est^ includes Sorabji as one of the 'six composers from Northern 
Europe' which are its subject-matter. Rapoport selects one work. Opus Clavicembalisticum, for a 
detailed study in his chapter on Sorabji. 

Opus Clavicembalisticum went out of print late in 1977, and was in faa the first of Sorabji's 14 
published musical works under the control of Oxford University Press to achieve this status. In 

common with each of the others, when stocks became exhausted, the composer declined reprints. All 
of the oiiginal publications wete out of print before Sorabji's death in 1988. 

Australian pianist Geofftey Douglas Madge was given permission by the composer to perform 
Opus Clavicembalisticum in public in 1980. During the Holland Festival in June that year Madge 
gave four performances of its first two movements, one of which was broadcast live. He also gave a 
further broadcast for ABC Television in Australia the following month. In the same year, an LP record 
of American pianist Michael Habermann, devoted entirely to Sorabji, was issued and this also 
included the fitst two movements of the Opus. 

Geoffi-ey Douglas Madge went on to give his first complete performance of Opus 
Clavicembalisticum in Utredit, Netherlands, in M^ 1982, and pkjwd the entire third part of it in 
London later that month. A commercial recording of the Utrecht performance was released the 
following year. Since then he has performed all or part of the work in Chicago, Bonn and Aarhus 
(Denmark) in 1983, Montr&J and Toronto in 1984, Viitasaari (Finland) in 1986, Oslo and Paris in 
1988, and Berlin in 2002. 


In the early 1960s, shortly before his death, Erik Chisholm, in an essay on Sorabji, devotes a page 
or so to Opus Clavicembalisticum. Recallii^ its 1930 Glasgow piemi^te he says this: 

"At that time Sorabji was a fabulous pianist and his performance of this amazing 
work was equally astonishing judged purely as a display of pianistic virtuosity. At that time, 
too, he played all his extant piano woris to me, not once but several times. I can well believe 
that under different circumstances, if, for example, Sorabji had had to earn his living as a 
professional musician, he might easily have had sensational success as a concert pianist, for 
his performances 35 years aff> were quite sts^gerii^." 

Earlier in the same part of the essay, Chisholm, with w^t now turns out to have been great 
foresight, declares: 

"The distinguished and highly popular English pianist, John Ogdon, has indeed played 
the entire work privately and by all accounts is well up to all its enormous technical and 

interpretative demands. 

"If Sorabji would give permission for a pianist of Ogdon's gifts publicly to play his 
music, it could easily be the beginning of a public appreciation of his music." 

Now that the public has had opportunities over the past quartet-century or so to hear at least some 
part of Sorabji's vast output, it seems reasonable to suggest that we are by now beyond "the beginning 
of a public appreciation of his music." Sorabji indeed consented to this historic recording of Opus 
Clavicembalisticum, and its first complete performance in England was given by John Ogdon, 
likewise with the full knowk%e and gladly given permission of the composer, though not, it must be 
said, in his physical presence. 

Copyright ©1988 Alistair Hinton 
Revised 2002 

1. Hutchinson, London, 1966. 

2. Taplinger, New York, 1979. 

Sorabji on the slopes above Corfe Castle in the mid-1 930s. 

Photograph by Norman Peterkin (also attributed - less probably - to J. Muspratt). 


Shortform-AnalyaiB oJf Opus Clavicemhaligticum 

Kaikhoaru Sozahji 

This analysis was written by the composer on three pages of manuscript immediately following 
the end of the piece, followed by four pages of music examples. It was not included in the published 
score, and it seems reasonable to assume that it was never intended for publication. Those familiar 
with Sorabji's literary style may be disappointed by the prosaic, factual and brief nature of this piece 
of writing. It should be remembered that Sorabji was always opposed to wordy descriptions of his own 
music — no lengthy discourses on any of his works appear in his enormous correspondence, and this 
is one of only two formal analyses of any of his works that he attempted. The analysis gives the 
impression of having been written in a hurry and with little attention to detail, and the increasing 
brevity of description of the later sections, together with increasing discrepancies in titling and 
punctuation, point to mounting impatience with the whole exercise. The 'Theme Table' that follows 
is comprehensive, however, so Sorabji obviously thoi^t the analysis worth completing, or had some 
reason to do so. It could be that he thought that this brief outline of the work would be of interest to 
a friend (it is not clear to whom, although Erik Chisholm, who presented the concert in which Sorabji 
gave the first performance, is an obvious possibility), or would aid the work's accessibility to a 
prospective publisher, who might otherwise find its size and unfamiliar style daunting (in the event 
the piece was published at the composer's fiither's expense). The other analysis that Sorabji wrote was 
of the Fourth Piano Sonata, the work that almost immediately preceded Opus Clavicembalisticum 
in the composer's output. The Fourth Sonata was also presented in a concert under Erik Chisholm's 
auspices, which suggests that the analyses were connected in some way with the concerts, either being 
read out in an introductory talk, or printed in the programme (although surely this could not account 
for the copious music examples). The underestimated length of the work (see footnote 2) definitely 
imfdies dut the analysis preceded the first performance. However, no documentary evidence has so far 


come to light to clarify this matter. 

The analysis as printed here conforms to the punctuation, titling and layout of the composer's 


Shortform- Analysis of Opus Clavicemtalisticum 
Tkis work is admittedly an essay in tke form adumtrated ty tke immortal BUSONI in liis great 

FANTASIA CONTRAPPUNTISTICA wliidi, witli tlie Hammerlclavicr Sonata and tke 
REGER Variations on a tliemo ol BACH are tliree of tlie sii])rcme works for tke piano. Like tke 
FANTASIA CONTRAPPLINTISTICA, tke Opus Clavlcemkalislicum is primarily a Fugue- 
Sequence, kut wkereas in tke BUSONI work tke first tkree fugues run on consecutively and are 
connected Itkeniaticallyl ' tke fugues of tke Opus Clavicemkaksticum are all tkematically self 
contained and separated ky extended interludes and caden/.e and it is not till tke CODA 
STRETTA of tke wkole work tkat tkemes of preceding fugues are woven into tke texture. My 
"Opus" continues tke task of my contrikution to tke tkeory (my own) of "one programme one work" 
wkick it still fiirtlier extends occupying tke lengtk of a full ordinary programme (2 kours approxi- 
mately) for its performance. ' Tke "Opus" falls into tkree kroad divisions indicated as PARS PRIMA , 
PARS ALTERA and PARSTERTIA respectively. 


Tkis section consists of (I) Introito: a skort section exposing tke five tkemes of tke Ckoral Prelude . 
Tke initial descending passage marked "declamato con enf asi e for/.a" is in tke nature of a motiv and 
frequently reappears in various guises in tke course of tke work. (II) Tkis suksection is tke Ckoral 
Prelude proper; a skort linking passage marked NEXUS ser\'es as a connecting liids. Tke five tkemes 
are fully and elakorately treated in tke Ckorale Prelude wkick after a climax suksides on to a skort 
pedal figure over wkick is quietly intoned a forecast of tke sukject of tke first Fugue. 

ni Tke first Fugue is a delikerate-paced 4 voiced specimen witk two cotmter-subjects 
wkick are ikemselves fugally treated in an extended episode. Tke sukject is treated in all four ways of 
straigkt, reversed, inverted, inverted and reversed. 


IV Tke Fantasia is a Toccata-like movement kased on preceding tkemes. In tke final Bars 
is added a motto kased on tke initials C. G. H (Bll). D of tke Gentleman to wkom tke work is 

VTk e Second I'ugue is doukle: occasional allusions to motti from tke first Fugue will ke 
found in it. 1 ke treatment kecomes more extended and free — altkougk always rigidly oontrapimtal 
and fugal. Tkis concludes tke first part of tke work. 

n. Pars Altera 

VI. Tke Interludium Primum is a tkeme of slow grave ckaracter witk 49 skort variations 
of every kind increasing in elakoration and complexity as tke section progresses. 

\'II. A rapid running CADENZA (I) filled witk many disguised allusions to earlier 

tkemes leads to — 

VIII. Tke Tkird Fugue wliick is triple ami x ery fully worked. Ecick section uses as 
ooimtersukject tke forms of tke sukject in tke preceding section. 


lllis IS tlic ItJiit^cst section of tke work. IX Interludium Alterum is an exleiiJed section in tliree 
divisions a loccata an Adagio and Passacaglia witk 81 Variations. Contijuially Iresk tkemes are 
introduced as eack movement of tke work arrix es. \'erv many aiul tllx crsil led L'inds of treatment 
from simple two part Counterpoint to tke most elaliorate and intricate of decorative arakesque are 
appkedto tlie Passacaglia tkeme. 

X. Is a skort Cadenza in ckord formations leading to tke 

XI. Fourtk Fugue wkick is quadruple, All four sukjects keing fully treated: tke 

XII. CODA S 1 RF 1 1 A is tken readied — a most intricate and complex weft of tkemes 
from tke entire work culminating witk a powerful declamation of tke Ist Sukject of tke first Fugue 
witk supreme power and massiveness. 


Nate: Separation and performance of any section or suLsection apart from tke wkole work is 
atsolutely proliiliited. Tke work is only intended for pianist-musicians of tlie lii gkest 
order. Indued il^ iiilcUocUial antl kvlinical difficulties place it lieyond tlie reacli t)f any 
others — it is a weiglity and serious contritution to tke literature of tke piano, for senous 
musicians and senous listeners, only . 

1. Sorabji deleted this word in the manuscript. There are thematic references to the first two fugues in the third, but they 
are not extensive. 

2. The composer presumably means diat die work, at 2\ hours, is intended to substitute for a full ordinary programme, 
without intending to imply that an ordinary programme would be of this length. On the subject of timings for Opus 
Ciavicembalisricum, it is worth noting that these can be misleading, even when they might reasonably be assumed to be 
accurate. The timing that the composer envisaged (and that which he took in his 1930 performance) can be called into 
question for a start. In his programme notes for the concert, Erik Chisholm stated that the work would last "2 \ to 3 hours", 
including intervals "of 5 to 10 minutes". The following day, the Glasgow Herald mentioned two intei^'als "of 10 minutes 
or more" in a performance that lasted "in total a little over two hours". In an article in the same newspaper five years later, 
Chisholm (who is said to have turned pages at the performance) said that the performance lasted "more than 2 \ hours with 
intervals". However, Chisholm's sister (who was at the performance) and the composer (who gave it) both stated 
unequivocally that no intervals took place. Then we have the question of the infamous 1936 John Tobin performance of 
the first part of Opus Clavicembalisticum. A critic has suggested that if Socabji really intended that the work last about 
2 hours, since the present recording lasts about twice that length of time, Tobin vras "as good" as Ogdon. No. Contemporary 
accounts (Edward Clarke Ashworth, writing in The New English Weekly; J.A.W. (Jack Westrup?); the composers 
t liiin[ihrcy .Searle and Mcrvyn Vicars (both of whom were at the perh)rmance} and Sorabji himself (who later denied that 
he was there, although Vicars said they were there together) put rhe iiniint; of Tobin's performance at 80 minutes 
(Ashworth) and 90 minutes or thereabouts (e\c! yhod)- else). Ashworth wrote ili.u Sor.ibji told him that the first part ought 
to last 40 minutes. For the record, Ogdon look 5t niiiuites in the preseiu recording and 40 in his l^JHS Q'-'*-''-'''' l'-li/:'heth 
Hall performance; Geoffrey Douglas Madge (live periorinance. l')S2) took 47. 

It is possible to he deceived about timings, even under favourable conditions, and in this connexion it is worth considering 
Yonty Solomons first performance of Sorabjis Third Piano ScHUUa at the Wymote HalL Three critics reviewed the 
performance, giving timings. The Daily Telegraph gave the duration as 65 minute^ The Guardian, 75 minutts, v^iile The 
limes' timing vm 90 minutes. It would seem that these statisrics tell us less about die duration of the piece than about the 
reacdons of difierent listeners, a principle which may be assumed to be generally applicable. 




sr. <£>1^<'°- 

-SS r. "W fc^< ^. 



Opu0 Clavicemhalistioum — a Critical Analyeis 


Ronald Stevenson 

Opus Clavicembalisticum is Sorabji's masterpiece, in the sense that it marks his emergence from 
the period of apprenticeship through which every composer must pass; and stamps his originahty 
upon every page with the inerasabihty of a watermark. 

Besides its ordinary edition, the work appeared in a special hmited edition of twenty-three copies 
printed on Whatman hand-made paper, each numbered and signed by the composer. The long folio 
format (bound in golden mottled 'pewter' paper, lettered in 'Othello' bold face), the superb heavy 
paper (252 pages with generous margins) and the fine Viennese printing (inevitably, with such a long 
work, containing a number of misprints) all constitute a collector's item of great value. 

The work carries the imprimatur of Curwen, London, who first managed the publication. Later 
it was placed into the hands of Oxford University Press. 

Opus Clavicembalisticum bears the following unique dedication: 









Facing the dedication, the composer prints vibsx he calls the 'constitution of the work', an 

impressive ichnograph: 
























Comparison of this plan with the distribuaone deWopem appended by Busoni to his Fantasia 
Contrappuntistica (edizione definitiva, 1910) reveals the fans et origa of Sorabji's formal conception. 


Here is Busonis plan: 





rUljA 11 (a due soggettij 


rUljrA 111 tre so^ettij 




V 1. 



VAKlA/,liJJNb 1 


VAKlA/,lUJNr. o 





FUGA IV (a quattro so^tti) 





Busoni told Hugo Leichtentritt that the Fantasia Contrappuntistica was, in its architectonic 
aspect, based on the proportions of the Palace of the Popes at Avignon. If the image is taken 
suggestively rather than literally, it may illumine to liken Sorabji's magnum opus to such grand 
architecture as the Temple of Ranpur. Standing on a lofty foundation 200 feet square, this glory of 
Indian architecture is surrounded by a range of 86 ceils, each bearing a pyramidal roof or sikra. It 
contains five shrines, the central one having a quadruple image of Adinath. There are 20 domes, 
21 feet in diameter, supported by over 400 columns enclosing the shrines — a multi-columnar vista, 
like an intimation of infinity. The colouristic cadenzas in Sorabji's music, which set off the 
atchiteaonic counterpoint of die fiigues, may be likened to the rose-quartz Aravuli mountains which 
rise behind the Temple of Ranpur. 

To analyse adequately Sorabji's 252 pages bar by bar would take a fiir greater number of ps^s, 
and the number of readers prepared to comb through such an analysis would be in reverse ratio to 
its inordinate length. Here a general outline of the work, with occasional detail, must suffice. 



I. INTROITO (pp 5-7). 

The work begins with an arresdi^ series of thineen notes, which inscribe a drooping arc, like a 
rainbow dipping down into an abyss: 


It is also like an awesome text pie&dng a Savonarolian sermon. Or it is Uke a superb tragedian's 
soliloquy at the beginning of a momentous drama. Or it is like the music of great bells being cast 
into the ocean from a high tower. It is all that and more besides, h is not a tone-picture of an 
abyss-plumbing rainbow or of bells cast into the sea. But it is music which inspires emotions akin to 
the emotions suggested by those images. This music's sonority on the piano suggests a mythical 
instrument which would combine the ring of a trumpet with the peal of a bell. It would be erroneous 
to think of the series of thirteen notes as a Schonbergian tone-row, for its 'freedom of speech' 
embraces what twelve-tone theorists proscribe: the recurrence of a note or notes within the basic 
series. Rather might we compare Sorabji's opening bar to an Indian raga: both present a basic pattern 
out of which the music is woven. It is the practice of the classical singers of India to prelude their 
song with its raga. Sorabji's first bar stands in that kind of relationship to his composition. The 
methods of many twelve-tone composers are very different from that, for these composers are 
generally at pains to conceal the random row which is the elementary arithmetical basis of their 
composition; or if they expose it, they often also expose the tenuity of its aural relevance to the whole 
composirion; aural relevance as distinct from visual relevance, for the human ear is as slow as the eye 
is sharp to perceive niceties. 

Sorabji's thirteen notes comprise: a chord of the 4th (root E), a passing note, an F major-minor 
chord, a diminished triad (root E, with B flat) and a common chord of E minor followed by one of 


D sharp minor. Thus the expansive, widely ranging melodic line contains a contracted inner 
harmonic progression which moves semitonally round a pivotal E. This procedure is intimately 
related to the opening harmonic idea of Busoni's 2nd Violin Sonata. The tonality is the same, but 
Busoni's chromadcism is explicit where Sorabji's is implicit. Here is the Busoni: 

J 1 ' ^ ^ 

r f * i 

The interior chromaticism in Sorabji's theme is expressed by harmonic implication. Apart from 
the passing note (note 4), which is later proved inessential when it is omitted from the theme, there 
is a semitone between only the first of the thirteen notes and the last. Paradoxically, it takes Sorabji 
thirteen notes to achieve the descent of the smallest interval used in his work, the semitone. This 
indicates the largeness of his time-scale and how the most prosaic interval in Western music (the 
much-suffering semitone) is in his hands shot through with a pr^ancy of meaning rivalled by few 

Incidentally, Sorabji's 'down-bow' signs over his opening notes (indicating powerful emphases) 
are derived from their employment in the slow movement of Busoni's Piano Concerto. 

His musical 'text' stated, Sorabji selects from it the major-minor coalescence and develops it in a 
figured chorale (Vivo e pesante molto), with a rapid arpeggio ostinato high on the keyboard; a chorale- 
like melody which relates to the 4th-chord of the 'motto', emblazoned in bronze haut-relief octaves 
in the middle of the keyboard; and an irregularly reiterated pedal-chord of D sharp minor, under- 
pinning the whole grand structure — grand, not grandiose. The arpe^o figure spreads to the left 
hand and the chorale melody rises above it, when the arpeggii contract to an accompaniment of 
scalic quintuplets. This returns to the pedal chord of D sharp minor, over vtUch a brilliant octave 
run, sweeping up and down the keyboard, interrupts the chorale in the improvisatory style of a 
chorale-prelude. Then follows a new pass^, ^ain based on a reiterated pedal-note (a low C sharp 
diis time). Here is a sonal premonition of sidereal space. The rhythm moves in changeless change. 
The harmony consists almost enrirdy of common chords, but curious juxtapositions negate the 
fiuniliarity into sounds so unfiuniliar as to b^n to approach psychic regions of experience. The 


whole section of five vast bars has its direct model in the third page of Busoni's Fantasia 
Contrappuntistica, as is immediately clear from a comparison of the texts: 


Busoni's melody is taken from the Bach chorale, Glory to God in the Highest, to which Sorabji's 
melody makes an oblique and occult reference. The oracular utterance breathes out mUentando. For 
a few seconds there is the frozen fixity of a low-held chord. The Bach chorale reference dien inspires 
an organ-like toccata passage of upward and downward rushing scales treated with chotdal accretions 


which the composer expressly marks quasi mixtures d'organo. This plunges to the tock-bed of the 
keyboard and another held chord. The opening arpeggio ostinato returns and the chorale in octaves 
and thirds rings out above an imperiously reiterated pedal-note on the piano's lowest octave. Arpeggii 
lap in a foamed iridescence of sound and a scale cascades down to the anchored D sharp minor pedal. 

Above this, mystical chorale-chords rise like vapour. 


The opening motto and the chorale themes of the Introito are here developed against ornate and 
richly varied scalic backgrounds. The style is improvisatory; the form, variations. In addition to the 
themes presented in the Introito, two new ideas emerge. The first of these (foot of page 8) 

is derived from notes 2-6 of the opening motto, though, through its rhythmic and harmonic 
treatment, it sounds like a new theme. The second of the new ideas is introduced towards the end of 
the chorale-prelude, and, consisting of an upward perfect 5th followed by a drop of a semironc, 
appears as a premonition of the first fugue's subject, like a shadow cast before, and is tinged with an 
ominous undertone of shuddering Faustus-feelit^. It may owe its inspiration to the theme which 
accompanies the first entry of the three mysterious students from Cracow in Busoni's opera Doktor 
Faust. Sorabji's chorale-prelude furnishes other evidence of having its roots in Busoni's Fantasia 
Contrappuntistica, as is clear from the following juxtaposition: 



CU.;..-UN.(..— , r 

Like the Busoni Fantasia, Sorabji's work is a Kantian Musik an sich and, though written for piano, and 
though containing pages beautifully adapted to the piano, might well be transcribed for many 
possible instrumental combinations, or, perhaps best of all, may be pertornied' in the mind of any 
reader expert enough to read it as he would read a book; no doubt occasionally using the piano as a 
dictionary, to 'look up' the sometimes un&miliar harmonic vocabulary If the Busoni and Sorabji 
works are biased towards one kind of instrument, it is to an ideal type of organ — which may appear 
patadoxical, considering the designation 'for pianoforte'; but will appear as the truth it is, when the 
piano's power of suggesting an ideal organ is r^lised; for an organ — solely by virtue of beii^ an organ 
— cannot surest an ided aural projection of itself, but is, indeed, more liable, given un&vourable 
acoustics (whidi are common!) to surest a caricature of itself, when the 32 foot vibrations threaten 
to shiver the foundations of Viaorian architecture! Sorabji's 'ideal organ' sounds at the end of his 
chorale-prelude, when he expressly marks an extended figured pedal-passage quasi pedaU soli. 


III. FUGA I (quatuor vocihus) (pp 19-30). 
The subjert (dux) is: 


The first three notes of diis subject were fi>reshadowed at the end of the chorale-prelude. The second 
constituent, the rising scale, is related to the chorale-theme (see examples 3(b) and 5(b) above). The 
dux is in G sharp minor. The comes is at the interval of a minor 7th above, but this does not 
establish a formalistic procedure: later answers arc at variable intervals. This formalistic freedom is 
earnest of Sorabji's sui generis treatment of the fugal form. The other two major twentieth century 
composers who have written extensively in the fugue form — Hindemith and Shostakovich — are 
more traditional than Sorabji in their treatment of tonality between subject and answer: Hindemith 
may depart from the tonic-dominant hegemony, but, once his ratio of tonality has been established 
between subject and answer, he maintains it; and of Shostakovich's 24 fugues, only one of them 
(no. 21 in B flat) diverges from his scrupulously observed classical principle of answering the subject 
in the dominant. 

Sorabji's counter-subject 1 (C.S.1) 

plays an obhligato role throughout the fugue, that is, it is associated with every statement of the 
subject. C.S. 1 is really a subtly concealed mirror-form of the subject, plus an appended figure of six 
notes (x), as is demonstrated here: 


A general view of the fugue would read as follows: 

Inclusive no. of bars Ratio of bars 
Exposition: p 19, bars 1-4 4 1 
Development: pp 19-24, bars 5-38 34 8 
Final section: pp 24-30, bars 38-75 yT_ 7 


The barlines are used as phrase-punauation. Dotted barlines serve the purpose of the 
conventional measure. (The bars enimierated above are counted as including both the ruled and 
dotted barline indications.) 

This general view is in relation to the form as it was established m the Bach tradition. Thus the 
development is said to commence at bar 5 because, after the first 4 bats, each of the four voices has 
stated either subject or answer. The final section is taken as commencing at bar 38 (p 24, line 2) 
because at that point the original tone-centre of G sharp is re-established; and because it is 
immediately preceded by an extended pedal-point, according to the principle expounded by Busoni 
in his edition of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier: "The entrance of the organ-point ... announces, in 
contrapuntal pieces, the beginning of the Third Part" (vide Busoni: note 2 to fugue XV). The 
relative length of the sections — 1:8:7 — indicates that the yardstick of ternary form (the ratio 1:2:1) 
cannot be applied in this case. On paper the form is cast in the ternary mould: indeed it is virtually 
impossible for a fugue to be cast in any other form and to remain a fugue: but the aural impression 


of this fugue is binary rather than ternary: an impression conveyed by three factors: (i) the exposition 
is so concentrated that it passes into the development very soon after the inception of the piece; 
(ii) the absence of a repeated tonal scheme in the exposition makes it sound already like the 
development; and (iii) thete are two main fermate (pauses), both in the tonic, G sharp minor (p 24, 
line 2, first chord, and p 30, line 2, first chord) and these serve to make clear a fundamentally 
bipartite formal conception. 

After the second fermata a second countersubject is introduced: 


This is treated as ohhligato, with C.S.I. 

Just how concentrated this fugue is may be seen from the fact that, during its 75 bars, there are 
no less than 73 complete statements of the subject or answer. There are also .some partial statements. 
Episodes are very few indeed. 

The opening motto of the Introito (ex. 1) also makes three reappearances, gleaming sombrely 
through the dark warp and woof of the fugal texture. 

The general impression of the fugue is stark and forbidding. The opening 5th of the subject is 
indicative of other passages of bold harmonic nudity. Sorabji evidently believes that the 
contrapuntal principle of individual part-writing may be extended (or perhaps we should say 
sacrificed) to the occasional writing of consecutive octaves, the constituents of which are 
distinguished from each other only by slight rhythmic modifications, as between alto and bass, and 
tenor and soprano in the 4th bar of the fiigue: 

Ex. 10. 


This kind of thing occurs very rarely in the fugue. If it were to recur often, it would create a dismal 
impression indeed and would reduce a four-part fugue to one in two parts. 

In contradistinction to such starkness, there are other — again infrequent — passages of 
Tristanesque lusciousness, as in bar 2, p 22: 

On the second Une of the same page, there is a canon based on C.S.I. , which again presents a 
completely difierent harmonic texture, this time of a naivete which has much in common with 
certain moments in the works of van Dieren, particularly the slow movement of the 5th string 
quartet. Here is the Sorabji: 

Such widely divergent elements as those presented above in examples 10-12 are somehow welded into 
a whole in pages replete with every contrapuntal device, including cancrizans canons — and even 


inverted cancrizans canons! At the end of the fiigue, after the attaceo of the first three notes has been 
subjected to canonic entries embodied in a texture of orchestral density ^ there is a convincing 
impression of esemplastic coherence and unity of purpose. 

IV. FANTASIA (pp .^0-39). 

This movement is a complete contrast to the preceding fugue. It is an extended perpetuum mobile 
in rapid semiquavers, a mammoth two-part invention which, though fundamentally biphonic, 
gathers in its course accretions of fragmentary references to the opening motifs of the first fugue and 
of the Introito; and, near the end of the movement, a new idea appears, based on the initials of the 

Ex. 13. C. &. H, M'K. 

No doubt Sorabji s admiration for the energumen of Scottish genius inspired him to supreme eflfbrt 
of creative will in this movement. 

It is piano-writing of a very high order, perhaps the finest of the whole work. It hints at 
transcendence of piano technique, not only in Liszt's sense of a transcendental study, but in the sense 
of surpassing the idea of a purely pianistic style by drawing into its net a diabolical suggestion of 
violinistic technique, in the employment of glissandi chords (sliding from a black-note chord to a 
white-note chord in demisemiquavers) and also in the marking "quasi pizzicato", which is even 
repeated more audaciously as "pizzicato" (s'ld — tout court!). 

This Fantasia is aquatic. Its sonorities shimmer in currents and eddies of sound. Rock-like octave 
or chordal fragments are tossed in its tidal flood of semiquavers. It is laced with scalic sprays and 
lashed with arpeggio breakers. It is a note-swarm. It is not a Jeu d'eau in the Ravellian or Lisztian sense. 
It is never an impressionistic fountain of chromatic water-music. Its line is never sprinkled with grace- 
notes of Beardsleyesque fringe-dots. Rather should we compare it to the firm, wiry line of Leonardo's 
late studies in hydrology; or to the fanged serpent-waves of Hokusai's 'Mangwa'. 

Towards the movement's close, agitation whips it up into a clotted yeasty texnire, like concretions 
of fbam-mafses after a prolonged storm. 


In the bitonal close die employment of a mere semitone raises the music's brilliance to an even 
higher dimension and su^ests a graphic image of a leaping crested wave: 


This Fantasia suggests the purity, the power, the movement and the mystery ot many waters. 

V. FUGA II (duplex) (pp 39-58). 

Whereas the first fugue was stark Ui^e a rock-framed Northern sea-scape, the second fugue has the 
lightness and the limpidity of a Mediterranean pastoral scene. Whereas the rhythms of the first fugue 
had the gaunt irregularity of a rock range, the rhythms of the second fugue have the harmonious 
groupings of a dance en plein air. The first fugue's subject contained such rhythmic complexity that, 
especially with the later stretti, it presented ever new aspects in difierent contexts; the time-stature 
(if marked) would have been 

24 (3+2+4+2+3+2+2+2+4). 
4 4 

The subject of the second fi^e, however, is almost entirely divided into bars of 3/2 which casts it 
into a type of coumnte: 


The subtly shifting modal inflections of the theme lend it a charm tinctured with an elusive archaic 
quality. The answer is given at the interval of a 6th. Sixths and thirds sweeten the harmony and play 
a greater part in this music than they did in the first fugue, which was characterised by a harmonic 
lai^ua^ employing a more liberal use of angular sevenths, fourths and fifths. What fifths there are in 
this second fiigue add a bucolic touch to the harmonious flutings of the dance-like counterpoints. 
The countersubject 

is not an inseparable adjunct to the theme in this fugue. It is sometimes replaced and varied by the 
reappearance of the first fugue's countersubject and by low octave reminiscences of the first fugue's 
subject, whose menacing rising 5th, followed by the semitone drop, momentarily clouds the pellucid 
atmosphere of the second fiigue. From ex. 16, the mediseval, proven^al, livre d'heures mood of this 
movement will be evident. The sound of flutes and tambour de Basque, "arpes et luthes", is evoked by 
this music. But the delectable mood is evanescent. As the fiigue develops, it becomes progressively 
sterner and gradually assumes a formidable aspea not unlike that of the first fiigue. 

The fi}rm of the first half of this double fi^e stands forth most clearly when considered as a brief 
exposidon followed by an enended development. Any paramount conception of coda or climax is 
precluded by the non-existence of the emphatic cadential 'landmarks' of the first fiigue. Here 
everything drives onward. Some justification could be argued for the two closing pages of the first 
half, with their augmentations ringing out in minims across the couranteA^i.t quaver texture, 
constituting a coda. But these two pages are not preceded by a pedal, as a coda often is in classical 


fugue form; and neither does any well defined tonality lend substance to this interpretation of the 

formal argument. The tonaliry is in a constant state of flux. It was so even in the fiigal subject itself 
(ex. 1 5), with its recurrent chromatic contradictions, which may best be explained as polymodality. 
The first half of this double fugue had its tonal centre in B flat, and, after charting many modulations, 
ends on a resolute chord of G major. The second subject begins on that chord, embedded within it. 
If the first half of the fugue was dance-like, the second half is song-like. The second subjea 

suggests a 'cello, but, if it were pkyed on a 'cello, the high tessitura would make it imperatively 
concerto-like in its technical difficulty. This wide pitch-range is extremely rare fijr a fiigal subject and 
creates a complex texture replete with overlappings of parts. But such is the beautiful clarity of its 
lyricism that it shines through the amassing of sound which accompanies the fugue's ptogress. The 
tonality here is more clearly defined than it was in the dance-like first half of the fugue; and this, too, 
creates clarity. There is a distinct suggestion of C minor at the beginning of this song-like theme, a 
suggestion which is confirmed by the answer. 

A short episode (p 49, line 3) — and episodes are very few in the closely reasoned Sorabjian fugue 
— is curiously reminiscent of the thirds and sixths of Chopin's G major Nocturne, op. 37, no. 2: 


This is given as an almost unique example of the detection of any derivative elements in Sorabji's 
music, which, apart from the manifestly intentional references to Busoni's Fantasia 
Contrappuntistica, are almost non-existent. The example is also oflfered as a case of the rule-proving 

The tempo moderato tempers the dance-like first subject, which was originally marked animato 
assai. When the two arc combined, it is the song-like element that prevails. This cantahile is 
developed in more frequent episodes. The form of this second half of the double fugue, as well as the 
tonality, also bears a more direct relationship with the traditional form than the first fugue did. The 
ternary ratio of 1:2:1 is clearly followed in the brief exposition and coda, flanking the extended 
development, and an organ-point of a thick 5-note chord, with a manual-like stretto in quavers above 
it, clearly presages the coda, which presents dose stntto and a restatement of the opening C minor 

Rinfare chords (marked quasi "mixtures" martelkto) herald the splendour of the double file's 
close, the refining, splendour of a sunset. The long drawn-out diminuendo cadence is enigmatic 
tonally, for, instead of ending on C, it ends on a strange chord 

above an A flat pedal, which recalls the first fugue and thus at this stage of the work (the end of the 
first of the three main parts), provides a cotmecting link with the G sharp pedal-notes of the first 


VI. INTERLUDIUM PRIMUM (Thema cum variationibus) (pp 59-98). 

This interlude is cast in the form of a chorale-like theme virith variauons. The theme deserves to 
be quoted in extenso: 

Here is enshrined the heart of the work, Uke an unguent in an alabastrine casket. I'or assuredly this 
chorale epitomises the anointed spirit which consecrates the whole work. The theme's legatissimo has 
the smoothness of alabaster; its adagissimo has the masslveness of alabaster; and the chromaticism has 
the fine granularity of alabaster. Or ^ain, this chorale stands like a dedication tablet in a great 
building. There are forty-nine variations, which, through viny entanglements of figuration, or 


through dense polyphonic webs of sound, preserve the outlines of the theme. In this sense, the 
variations, despite their kaleidoscopic range of expression, are related more to the classical 17th and 
18th century variation form than to the modern variation form, which, as practised by such masters 
as Elgar and Richard Strauss, often uses the theme merely as a point d'appui and frequently digresses 
fi:om it. (Indeed that type of variation-form would more fittingly be described as 'digressions horn a 
theme', rather than Variations on a theme'.) 

A sentence m^t be written about each of Sorabji's variations, but that pioceduie would hardly 
add to the general impression attempted above, and may even detract fixjm it. Instead of that plan, 
a few of the variations which present points of salient interest have been selected for more detailed 

It would be incorrect to assume that the piano writing is consistently virtuosic. Variation 9 is a 
two-part invention of irreducible simplicity, treating the chorale-theme as cantus fermus with a slow- 
flowing quaver counterpoint above it, both in the bass register. 

Severe simplicity is also manifest in variation 17, but it is a simplicity which belongs only to the 
idea of the variation; its problems of execution are of well-nigh insuperable difficulty, even with the 
employment of the Steinway middle pedal. The antiphonal character of the passage 


could be better realised on two pianos than on one, though the coalescence of tonahties, caught in a 
cloud of subtly pedal-held sound, may perhaps be better realised on one piano. 

'Paganinesco' is the subtitle of variation 20, which is also marked quasi saltando. The virtuosity of 
this music is the nth. d^tee of Liszt. It can be matched in the corpus of post-Lisztian piano music 
perhaps only by Gino Tagliapietra's Tre Esercizii e Venti Variazioni per le Grandi Estensioni del 
Pianoforte (Ricotdi, 1925)'. 

The Italian expressions accompanying variation 35 are reminiscent of the eloquent descriptions 
used by Busoni on the score of his Piano Concerto. Sorabji here uses, in a Prtsto vivace, the 
expression guizzando amie fiiimme (flashing like flames) to describe the sequences of rapid double 
sixths which fuse major and minor harmony. Tovi^ard the end of the variation, the composer employs 
the same simile in the phrase vanno morendo le fiamme (the flames die down). 

Variation 38 presents an outstanding example of the fertility of Sorabji's rhythmic invention: 

Above diis invocation of the 287 drums of India, a free quasi-improvised passage, marked oscuro 
moves in low chords, like a threnody. 

After the complex rhythms of variation 38, the following variation is of a lyrical simplicity unique 
in the whole of the Opus Clavicembalisticum. This music refiites the error of assuming that Sorabji, 
because he thinks in a highly complex manner, is incapable of ever thinking simply (But note the 
wholly characteristic proviso following the tempo indication!). This entire variation is given here, 
reduced from three staves to two (without altering any note), so that the reader may be able to savour 
a self-contained passage of a more easily accessible aspea of Sorabji's work: 


After the mature simplicity of variation 39, the last ten variations gather a fantastic wealth of 
pianistic figuration. Variation 46 contains a 'reflection' of the chorale-prelude in the bass, below 
scalic demisemiquavers which recall the Fantasia and, in unsolicited confirmation of my description 
of the Fantasia as 'aquatic', bears the vroids scomndo, liscamente e liquido. 

Variation 47 is marked Andante, con severitk ttidattica. This last word has perhaps never been 
employed in a musical context outside the corpus of Sorabji: the austere polyphony is a pause before 
the onslaught of the penultimate variation. 

The final variation begins Modemto, insinmnte e carezzando and is kept pianissimo (in the 
manner of Sorabji's 'hothouse' music) until the sudden resolve near the close, which is a 
conflagration of sound. 

The first interlude contains such sumptuous piano writing, contrasted with such severe 
polyphony as to render it comparable perhaps only to Liszt's Todtentanz on the Dies Irae (a theme 
which Sorabji has also treated in his Sequentia Cydica). 


VII. CADENZA I (pp 99-104). 

This cadenza consists of seven episodes linked in improvisatory manner. . 

After the massed sonal effects in which the preceding interlude culramated, relief is given by 
reducing the four-sttve high-banked texture to a single darting line of semiquavers on a single ba^ 
stave This line comprises roulades, scales and expanding broken-chord sequences. The rhythm is nch 
in interest, for, while the semiquaver norm is constant, the groups arc arranged in unequal numbers 
ofnotes, comprising four, five. six. seven and sometimes two semiquavers. 

After this brief inttoduaory monodic passage, single bass notes echo the chorale-theme ot the 
interlude. Then below the ever inventive semiquaver line, which now shoots off mto nMjor-minor 
broken chords and long bands of superimposed thirds, bass octaves recall the countersubject ot the 
second fugue (ex. 16) and also the motif of the dedicatees imuals (ex. 13). . . . . i 

The single line of semiquavers sprouts ramifications of double-thuds and sixths over nch chordal 

"'^"'T'C'suddenly the proliferating sound is drawn up to a compact texture of six-part chords in 
dotted rhythm, marked con sentenziosita didattica, pesante e pomposo. A pause for thought. 

But soon the thing "shoots up like a dragon" again, with a sweeping rapid scale, and the 
principal tempo of the opening semiquavers is restored, though not in its single hne but m a rich 
tapestry of densely woven sound. Chordal pedal-pomts punctuate the multiple sentences of miBic. 

Towards the close of the caden/,a, the introductory monody returns in bass register. A chain ot 
trills, also in the bass, provides a camusfermus above the tunning counterpoint, which soon cannot 
be constricted to its low register but rises above the trills as they descend. , ^ , , . 

A brief final section is constructed above an E flat pedal-point, with each hand playing 
semiquavers and crotchet chords. The figuration rises to the top of the keyboard and is echpscd in a 
final chord in which no le» than eighteen notes sound together (marked acuttsstmo grtdando 
forsennatamente: lasciatt vibmre: very keenly and una>nstrainedly crying out: leave [the sounds] to 
vibrate [in the pedal]). 



The dux primus is the most beaurifiil melody in the whole work. It is blent of song and fantasy: 

The second 'answer' adds harmonic and contrapuntal beauty to the melody of the subjea. It is 
a moment of afflatus: 


Such harmonic appeal is very rare in Sorabji's fiigues. Their general asperity indicates that it were 
better not to consider the fiigues as harmony at all, but as counterpoint without harmony, which for 
the greater part they are, notwithstandii^ ex. 24; diete are combinations of sounds without a feeling 
of harmonic progression. Any harmonic movement in the fiigues is transient and subsidiary to the 
contrapuntal idea. The principal employment of harmony here is as cadential punctuation. 

The development of the first section of this fugue is like a series of expositions, commencing in 
two parts and gathering counterpoint in close stretti, until a cadential chord clinches the argument. 

There are two passing references to the subject of the first fugue. These are absorbed in the 


music's flow and their function is formal rather than dramatic. 

Octave doublings of the two outer parts of the five voices announce the stretto, which builds up 
the voice-leading from the previous four-part writing to no less than seven parts. 

The dux alter is quasi-atonal or nontonal — perhaps the nearest approach to the Schdnberg of 
Opus 1 1 anywhere in the work: 

Two countersubjects are employed, the one quoted in ex. 24 and another in flowing quavers. These 
countersubjects are treated in an extended episode. 

Development by a series of exposition-like passages, remarked upon in the first section of this 
fugue, is also found in the second section and adds to the fugal dialectics the impression of the 
musical argument being assailed from various angles; an impression which is further reinforced by the 
complete apparatus of fugal technique being deployed. 

Again, octave doublings initiate the climax and the argiunent is arrested on a strong firmata 

The dux tertius is prosaic: 

— which the composer may intend as a correlative to the richly cantabile first subjea and the quasi- 
atonal second subject. 

In the development, the countersubjects from the first and second fugues engage in episodic 
dialogue — a parallel passage to the episode on two counter-subjects in the second section of this 

The kind of development presented by the first two sections — accumulation of exposition-like 
pass:^ — is also found in the third and last section and, this time, accelerations add to the effect 


of argiunent assailed from different angles. The tempo reaches a fiery allegro before retarding to the 
principal tempo of the fugue. 

Octave doublings — by now the familiar signal for the inceprion of the climax — make the 
conclusion of the musical discourse blaze with conviction. 

A final bar of massive chords (molto adagio) — still bearing the imprint of the counterpoint, as 
rhyolite shows the lava-flow in its structure — seals the end of the fitgue. 


DC INTERLUDIUM B (Toccata: Adagio : Passaca^ia) (pp 137-193) 
(a) Toccata. 

The Toccata (Rapido) recalls the Inmito, with its deep-anchored D sharp minor pedal-chord and 
the motto theme set against a scintillating semiquaver background reminiscent of the first cadenza. 
The piano writing is prodigiously inventive. So is the harmony and the rhythm. The rhythm in the 
foUowii^ quotation would be difficult to match before Messiaen: 

The following diabolical suggestion of violin technique would be difHcult to match anywheie in 
piano literanue: 

The style of this toccata is improvisatory. Brilliancy is heightened by the frequent employment of the 

piano's highest register. 

(b) Adagio. 

With the Adagio, we reach what might be regarded as the inverse of the Introito's opening motto 
(ex. 1). It will be remembered that the motto inscribed a descending arc of sound which plumbed the 
tenebrous depths of the D sharp minor chord. The notes rang out like an apocalyptic trumpet. Here 
we have the ascent from the depths. The notes rise slowly in a diaphonous rainbow of sound which 
tips the glacial heights of the keyboard: 

From this moment we begin to glimpse the last mountain ranges of the work's end. 


Comparison with the 'basic set' of Alban Berg's "Violin Concerto 

is fraught with significance. The whole-note group of the last four notes in ex. 30 was associated by 
Berg with his quotation of the Bach chorale Es ist genug which is very like Sorabjl's chorale in the 
first interlude (cf. ex. 19). The subtide of the Bach church cantata no. 20, O Ew^it, du 
Donnerwort, in which the chorale appears, is 'Dialogue between Fear and Hope'. This interior 
dialogue is also found in the Opus Clavicembalisticum. If the !ntroito is 'Fear', the Adagio is 'Hope' 
— the two magnetic poles of the work. When we recall Joseph Szigeti's conjecture that Busoni's 2nd 
Violin Sonata with its variations on the Bach chorale Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seele, wenn 
ich in deiner Liebe ruh may have influenced Alban Berg, whose Violin Concerto, composed in 1 935, 
also climaxes in variations on the Bach chorale: Es ist genug! si nimm, Herr, meiner Geist; and when 
we recall the intimate connexion between Sorabji's Introito motto theme and the opening of Busoni's 
2nd Violin Sonata (cf the examples above, relating them) Busoni, Berg and Sorabji are glimpsed in 
communion with Bach. 

Ihe form of ihc Adagio is a large-scale binary conception, with each section juxtaposing a 
nocturne-like passage floating on a billowy arpeggio accompaniment followed by an organ-like series 
of 8-part block chords, marked con sollenita pontificale: grave e seven ma dolce. This formal idea is a 
development of the plan which Chopin adopted in the Nocturne in G minor, op. 37, no. 1. 
StyUstically, Sorabji's Adagio is a study in impressionism and, as such, has much in common with 
Debussy's La cath^drale engloutie. Just before the close of die Adagio, there are references to the 
Introito's motto-dieme, marked poetico. For almost the whole of diis movement, the tone-range is 
strictly limited to ppp-mp. Only in the last slowly descending series of chords does the volume 
increase toff. Finally, the moonbright sonorities blaze in the deep pool of a C sharp major chord. This 
chord also completed the adagissimo chorale-theme of the first interlude. So here is a further link 
between the Adagio and the adagissimo, and further justification of the correspondence 
demonstrated above, when the two passages were related to Berg's Violin Concerto. 


(c) Passacaglia. 

The ground-bass 

pays scant tribute to the traditional triple time-signature, though the syncope of the minim, the 
second note in the theme, and subsequent groupings of three crotchets may be oblique references to 
the classical hall-marks of the form. 

Like the Bach Chaconne, this Passacaglia is constructed in variation-clusters, in this case totalling 
eighty-one variations. 

The first five variations constitute the first grouping. They are cumulative, that is, they progress 
from the monody of the ground-bass to five parts in variation 5, employing only the note-values of 

the theme. 

With variation 6 the five parts are reduced again to two, but variety is achieved by the new 
flowing semiquaver counterpoint. Variations 6-8 again pile up the counterpoint from two to four 

Variations 9-10 are respectively in three- and five-part writing, with a broken rhythm in triplet 
semiquavers, a rest on the first of each triplet. The rhythm is fiirther varied by the introduction of 
demisemiquavers and syncopations. 

Variations 12-13 are grouped in contrast: the steady semiquaver counterpoint in double notes of 
no. 12 is fbllovtred by all manner of rhythmic quirks and caprices in no. 13 (maiioedfotitastico). 

The tmnquillo of variation 14 is similarly contrasted to the vivace of variation 15. 

Variations 16-18 are moderato sempre-w&i a constant background of uninterrupted semiquavers. 
To this group of three variations in moderate tempo is added the contrast of another three in quick 

From variation 21 to variation 52 the theme moves to the middle part, embedded in ever- 
changing textures. 


From variation 53 onward the theme becomes the melody and is subjected to a wide range of 
treatment, from severe canonic imitation to Jardin parfume-like sensuousness. 

Variation 53 is of especial interest. Sorabji never indulged in the 'oriental atmosphere' against 
which he inveighed in his essays "Around Music". This variation, characterised as quasi tambura, 
furnishes the sole example in Opus Clavicembalisticum of the blending of Oriental and Occidental 
idioms (unless we include the 'drum'-variation of the First Interlude, ex. 21). The tambura is a 
musical instrument common to Arabia, India and Persia. It is a large stringed instrument with a big 
head and a long, gracefiil neck. Its four strings are gently plucked, one after the other. No Eastern 
singer of repute will perform without two tamburas. They provide the fixed, regular drone- 
background to the free improvisation of the song. 


The position of the theme, relative to the variation-groups, presents the broadest formal division 
of the movement. Variations 1-20 state the theme as ground-bass; variations 21-52 transfer it to the 
middle part; and variations 53-81 transfer it to the melody. Thus there is a roughly equal tripartite 
division underlying the formal conception. Within that general plan, there are the fiirther groupings 
of tempo and texture. 


After the theme has been subjected to the consummately grandiose treatment of the final 
variations, in which the white page grows blaclc with notes, the ground-bass theme is tesuted in quiet, 
noble octaves in a brief Epilogue (largissimo e dolcissimo). 

X. CADENZA II (pp 194-197) 

This is built entirely of chord sequences in vivo quavers over a reiterated pedal octave A. It is 
unrelated to any previous or subsequent material and its purpose is to provide relief from the 
overwhelmingly accumulative eifect of the preceding Passacaglia. 

XI. FUGA IV (Quadmplex) (pp 198-240) 

The first subject 

Ex. 33. 

has affinities with the Passacaglia's ground-bass: both begin with the rhythmic sequence of crotchet- 
minim-quavers and both are tinged with whole-tone-scale colourii^. The su^estion of sensuousness 
inseparable from the whole-tone scale is curiously denied in Sorabji's marking of the theme: severe e 
austero. This denial may be symptomatic of Sorabji's unease in accommodating a residual early 
French-impressionist influence, which, by the time he was composing the Opus, he had largely 

This quadruple fugue also adheres to and enlarges upon the Passac^ias piled-up construction. 
The fugue does this in two ways: 


1 : by developing through a series of accumulating exposition-like sections which b^n with two- 
part close imitation and gradually add to the counterpoint until a four-part cadence is reached, 

whence the scheme is repeated; 

2: the note-value norm of the first subject — the crotchet — is accelerated, then retarded, then 

accelerated by the three subsequent subjects: 






" ' " — 

Then, too, the excitement is increased by the required quasi-imperceptible increase in the tempo, 
extending from the fugue's initiation to the stretta. 

The extraordinary number of notes in the andamenti of the 2nd and 4th subjects constitute an 

almost insuperable difficulty to comprehension — especially when one reflects that these subjects are 
not only presented but combined with the other subjects — and in all manner of contrapuntal 
combinations too! — near the end of some four hours of music, comprising concentrated counter- 
point, relieved only by transcendental piano writing, with an all but total banishment of simplicity! 


XII. CODA-STRETTA (pp 240-252) 

The summation of the work begins with full organ-like counterpoint combining the four 
subjects of the quadruple fugue in strettissimo. This is developed through various contrapuntal 
combinations, the work driving on through with inexorable will. Towards the dose, the first subjects 
of the 2nd and 3rd fugues are recalled martellatissimo, in h^ chotds. A piii larp is only a gathering 
of forces for the final avalanche. 

After a slight break the final cadence reiterates a chord of G sharp minor — the tonality of the 
first fijgue — but adding a grinding dissonance which certainly allows of no complaisance in 
conventional peroration. It is like Sorabji himself, protesting to the last. 


1. Sorabji altered this to "UNUS" in his 'working copy', but "UNUM" is what appeared in all copies of the publication. 
[Editorial footnote] 

2. The music on pp 28-30 tesembles an orchestral score more than a piano score! The appearance of this music can be 
matched in twentieth century piano music perhaps only by page 12 of Wladimir Vogel's Epitaffio per Alhan Berg (Ricordi, 

3. Taghapietra (1887-1954) was a favourite pupil of Busoni. 


John Ogdon, 1985 
Copyright ©1985, C.H.R. 


KiihhoBm Soxahji and Herman Melville 

John Ogdon 

"Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appall." (Mehrille) 

Kaikhosru Sorabji, in "Mi Contra Fa", speaks of Toscanini, Busoni and Heifetz as beings "set 
apart". Had his context admitted extension beyond the realm of music, he could well have included 

the name of Herman Melville. 

Why is this? E. M. Forster, in "Aspects of the Novel", pays tribute to the unique depth and power 
of Melville's finest work, "Moby-Dick"; prophetic of Joyce's use of myth and fabulous resurrection in 
the dream-plumbed world of Finnegan's Wake, it is also subject to a more directly sexual analysis, as 
D. H. Lawrence showed in one of his finest essays (Studies in Classic American Literature), and is thus 
accessible to both Jungian and Freudian analysis. It is no accident that Jui^ found it the most 
interesting American novel, and a treasure-house of symbolism. 

In what lies its lasting appeal? Lawrence si^ests that its meaning is puzzling not only to us, but 
that it also was to its creator: 

"Of course he is a symboL 

Of what? 

I doubt if even Melville knew exactly. That's the best of it." 
Somerset Mat^hi>in> however in "Ten Novels and their Authors", avers that we do well to approach 

Moby-Dick as a straightforward whaling story without metaphysical overtones, cites Melville as 

authority for this, and maintains that the finest parts of the novel are those chapters, such as "The 
Grand Armada", which conform to this exciting exterior interpretation of the novel. 

There is much critical support for a more symbolic interpretation: Lawrence notes that, "as a 
revelation of destiny the book is too deep even for sorrow". And for E. M. Forster this sadness, so deep 

that it becomes "undistinguishable from glory", seems to lead us to the heart of Melville's message. 
- The style of the novel is elevated; a phantasmal whiteness, remote and majestic, owing immediate 
allegiance to Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Narrative of 
Arthur Gordon Pym", enshrouds the more straightforward elements of the novel, which is also in the 
-listic lineage of Milton and Sir Thomas Browne and, here and there, of Shakespeare. 
Renouvier has said, "the worid is sufiering fiom lack of fidth in a tianscendenal truth". It still is; 
Melville perceived a great truth and only lost &ith in the possibili^ of btingii^ it to the often 
unsympathetic and materialistic peoples of his time after the &ilure of "Pierre", which was to have 
been his "Book of the Sacred Truth". 

Melville is not earthbound: his passion, like Berlioz's, burns with a fierce pure white flame; the 
preoccupation with "I'homme moyen semuel" which is so typical of the nineteenth century novel is so 
far removed from his art as is the sumptuous richness of Wagner's sound from the Himalayan rarity 
of Berlioz's orchestral texture. D. H, Lawrence's acumen is at its highest when he says, "In his 'human' 
self, Melville is almost dead. That is, he hardly reacts to human contacts any more; or only ideally . . . 
he is more spell-bound by the strange slidings and collidings of Matter than by the things men do." 

The emotional and moral ambiguity of Melville's writing, which renders his message ineffably 
tantalising, suggests, if one wishes to make a musical analogy, comparison not with Sorabji but rather 
with Busoni, Bruckner, Debussy or van Dieten. 
Consider the beautiful openii^ of "Pierre": 

"There are some strange siunmer mornings in the coimtry, when he who is but a sojourner from 
the city shall early walk forth into the fields, and be wonder-smitten with the trance-like aspect of the 
green and golden world. Not a flower stirs: the trees forget to wave; the grass itself seems to have 
ceased to grow; and all Nature, as if suddenly become conscious of her own profound mystery, and 
feeling no refiige from it but silence, sinks into this wonderful and indescribable repose. " 

This might call to mind, by musical association, the opening of the Busoni Piano Concerto, of 
Debussy's "Prelude a I'aptes-midi d'un faune" or "Gigues", or the Tema con Variazione for piano by 
Bernard van Dieren, or the opening of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony, beginnings (loomings) which 
may prelude catastrophe or triumph, but which in themselves are uncommitted. Busoni, who shows 
us triumph and exultation in the key of C minor, defeat and resignation in the major key, is 
peculiarly fitted to serve as guide through the mazes of Moby-Dick, whose hero fights an evil that 


only he can see, becoming evil himself in the struggle. 

So, too, is Wagner: anyone who has heard the opening of the Second Acr of Siegfried 
immediately possesses a key to the darkest pages of Moby-Dick. The mythological framework and 
elemental imagery of the Ring furnish innumerable parallels with Melville's master-work. 

But at the first great invocation in Moby-Dick, "Call me Ishmael", I suggest that comparison with 
Sorabji is immediately compelling, for in the opening of Opus Clavicembalisticum, his greatest 
published piano work, we find a clarion call, proclaiming fiiith in a transcendental artistic 
truth: — 

Declamato con enfan « forxa 
Adag.o n 

" " - n n 

n n 

n M n 


n n 



Like the opening of Moby-Dick, it is Lucifer-like in its pride; "faciiis descensus Averni" is the message 
of its swift descent. 

The spiritual Ishmaelism of Melville and Sorabji is strikingly similar. Melville, with little formal 
education ("a whale-boat was my Harvard and Yale") went to sea when he was 18; in his early 
writing he showed charming and eloquent narrative gifts which deepened at so ama^ng a speed, 
commensurate with his deepening experience, that he was emboldened to declare, in his durty- 
second year, "I feel that 1 am now come to the inmost leaf of the bulb, and that shor^ (^ flower 
must fall to the mould"; later he chose to change the course of his life by forsaking the voluble and 
conversational worldliness and success of his early years for ever-increasing moral and mental 
speculation ("wandering the barren deserts of metaphysics") and a mundane post in the New York 
Customs Office. 

Sorabji too had little or no academic musical education: he was largely self-taught as a composer, 
and manifests in his early music a voluble richness and superabundance of &ntasy and imagery 





similar to the cascade from the pen of the young Melville. A hot sensual haze shimmers and hovers 
lazily in the beautiful tone-poems "In the Hothouse" and "Le Jardin parfimi^" *hich hold a place in 
Sorabji's output comparable with that of "Typee" and "Omoo" in Melville's. 

Sorabji also elected to change the course of his artistic 1&, by placing a fierce prohibition on 
public performances of his music: this retirement fmm the public eye is applicable to Sorabji only as 
composer and pianist — his letters and essays have continued to fire a broadside upon complacency 
to this very day. 

The changing attitude of these two men towards the outside world stems from the same cause: 
both had messages of extraordinary difficulty and intensity to offer, and both felt that the machinery 
of communication was inadequate; "all my novels are botches", wrote Herman Melville, asking 
Hawthorne to forgive structural imperfections in his writing, for the sake of the all-pervading 
"archangelic soul" behind it. The problem in Sorabji's music is not one of spiritual ambiguity, his 
message being emblazoned in his music with exemplary clarity and fire, but rather of technical 
complexity, in his immensely difficult writing for the piano. Well-intentioned and sincere perform- 
ances in the 'thirties, other than the composer's, did not satisfy him that the drive and flow of the 
music were being communicated to the audience, so he decided that if public performance could not 
satisfactorily convey his meaning, then public performance his music would not have. 

Melville found that in the material prosperity and expanding commercialism of his time there was 
litde enough place for his mature work — with its emphasis on spiritual values and sympathy for the 
under-dog and the castaway. A novel that was "the superbest prophecy of fascism that any literature 
produced", as Henry A. Murray so truly says, had to wait many years before the world could 
.understand its import. 

Sorabji, too, has found the musical world at large unready to receive his artistic experience. 
An emphasis on compositional techniques and post-Webernian brevity for their own sakes is most 
uncongenial to him. The length of a mature work of his occupies an entire recital, which presents 
great practical difficulties in performance, both for performer and audience, a problem which has also 
been faced by Messiaen, whose finest piano work, "Vingt Regards sur I'Enfant-Jesus", lasts 110 

Messiaen, rather than Sorabji, might implore forgiveness for formal shortcomings for the sake of 
le all-pervading "archangelic soul", bearing in mind the sometimes naif, often beautifitl and totally 


direct religious tenor of his writing. 

Sorabji, unlike Messiaen, shows in his mature work, and especially in Opus Clavicembalisricum, a 
granitic command of form that is h^hly enviable; it stems, he has told us, f^om study of Busoni s 
Fantasia Contrappnnfistica — he has extended die formal structure of his model to an impressive 
Mchitertonic design. This permits a plasticity of detail within the broad confines of the scheme, and 
diis conforms impressively to the need for variety within a basic unity which most of us desire in 
approaching a work of art. 

Opus Clavicembalisticum does suggest and invite comparisons with Moby-Dick. Here also a great 
and austere formal scheme is set forth, while within its limits Melville is free to rhapsodise and 
soliloquise (as his plot allows) with a lyrical beauty that leads us, as Viola Meynell has truly said, "to 
the comprehensible limits of marvellous imagination". 

Within the formal scheme of Opus Clavicembalisticum is much opportunity for die th^sody dear 
to Sorabji, and in the Adagio — so prophetic, in its opening, of Berg's Violin Concerto — he calk 
forth hallowed deeps, providing the most profound experience of die whole composition, reminding 
one person, at least, of the sheer beauty of the opening of "The Symphony^ in Moby-Dick:— 

"It was a clear steel-blue day. The firmaments of ak and sea were hanlly separable in diat 
ail-pervading azure; only, die pensive air was transparendy pure and soft, widl a woman's look, and 
diejobust and man-like sea heaved with long, strong, Ungerii^ swells, as Samsons chest in his sleep. 

Hither, and diidier, on high, glided the snow-white wings of small, unspeckled birds; these were 
die gende thoughts of die feminine air; but to and fro in the deeps, far down in the bottomless blue, 
rushed mighty leviadians . . . sword-fish, and sharks; and these were the strong, troubled, murderous 
thinkings of the masculine sea. 

"But though thus contrasting within, the contrast was only in shades and shadows without: diose 
two seemed one; it was only the sex, as it were, that distinguished them." 

Both men draw heavily on the contents of the unconscious; diis is shown by a process of writing 
"on and on" which would seem to shape, during the actual Creadon of their work, the quality of the 
artistic experience communicated by it, rather than an experience implicit in the very undertaking. 
Especially, in the opening pages of Moby-Dick, stigmatised as "journalism" by D. H. Lawrence, one 
cannot feel that Melville knew to what levels of feeling his Muse would later lead him. 

What of MeWille's later work? Has this any point of contact with the kter (otipltMthed) work of 


Sorabji? There is a strong connection in their attitude towards publication: Melville, in the last 
twenty-five years of his life, showed great unwillingness to publish, regretting the publication 
(financed by his uncle) of "Clare!", and thereafter publishing only two slender volumes of poetry in 
limited editions. Sorabji, likewise, has published nothing since the appearance of Opus 
Clavicembalisticum in the 'thirdes. 

Melville's refusal to publish, and his constandy increasing verbal economy (which may be observed 
from 1854 onwards) stem from his tired, rested state of mind which, in the short story "Bartleby", 
approaches clinical "negativism". Sorabji, however, takes pride in ever-increasing proliferation and 
exuberance of detail in his vast "Jami" Symphony and the Opus Archimi^cum for piano. 
Nonetheless, a glance which the composer most kindly gave me at the Sequentia Cyclica, dedicated 
to Egon Petri, seemed to show, compared with Opus Clavicembalisticum, a greater austerity in 
keyboard writing coupled with harmonically thoughtful penetration of the rarest beauty. 

Melville's comment on a statement by an editor of Chatterton's Poetical Works, who wrote, 
"though Shakespeare must ever remain unapproachable", was "Cant. No man 'must ever remain 
unapproachable.'"A similarly honest and incisive directness has always informed Sorabji's criticism. 
He has never been one of those many who are so hypnotised by a famous name that they forswear 
their critical faculties. Nor has he ever been afraid to ai^ the praises of the lesser-known, in heroic 
partisanship loud and clear. In this way he has done an enormous amount to create and foster 
interest in the work of S2ymanowski, Medtner, van Dieren, Chausson and Godowski, to name only 
five from many possible examples. 

He does not share Melville's passionate feith in theoretical democracy, since he is intensely 
aristocratic in his bdiefs. It is interesting to nott that Melville, in a letter to Hawthorne written in 
1851, says: "There have been those who, vi4iile earnest on behalf of political equality, still accept the 
intellectual estates." 

This would seem to imply that Melville, in practice, held a less democratic viewpoint than that 
which he propounded in "White Jacket". 

Sorabji does share with the great novelist a belief in intense individuality and in the necessity of 
remaining absolutely true to one's artistic credo without compromise and without fear. It is 
significant that as an expression of his sense of vocation and immense conviction he should open "Mi 
Contra Fa" with a quotation from Norman Douglas' "Alone", which ends: — 


"While others nurse their griefs he nurses his joy. He endeavours to find himself at no matter what 
cost, and to be true to that self when found, a worthy occupation for a lifetime." 

Arid the title of the book is perhaps more significant than the quotation from it, for Sorabji is a 
man "very much alone, and on his own" in the world of contemporary music, even as Melville was 
"a creature set apart" in the literary world of the nineteenth century. Full account wiU have to be taken 
of Sorabji's extraordinary contribution to 20th century muac, just as historical perspective 
demanded that the bitter criticisms and misunderstandings of MefadlkV work should be My 

Copyright ©1961 John Ogdon 


Paul Rapoport. Alistair Hinton. John Ogdon, Ronald Stevenson and Alastair Chisholm, on the occasion of Ogdon's first 
public performance of Opus Ciavicennbaiisticum (Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 14th July, 1988). Photograph by Cllve 
Spencer-Bentley. Copyright ©1988 C.J. Spencer-Bentiey. 


Notes on the Life and Career of Sorahji 

AliBtair Hintoti 

These are a few facts concerning Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji. Born on 14 August 1892 in 
Chingford, Essex, England, his Pars! father was a civil engineer and his mother apparently a 
soprano. He lived almost all his life in England. Both parents spoke several European languages 
and Sorabji's familiarity with those languages began at home long before he received formal 
training in them. His education, both general and musical, was largely private. He began piano 
lessons with his mother at about the age of six and later received tuition in harmony, counterpoint, 
piano and organ from numerous teachers up to his mid-teens. He never received M-time training at 
university or music conservatoire and was largely self-wught from this point onwards. 

No 'child prodigy', he pursued with particular diligence the study of his first love, the piano, 
developing a prodigious technique through a self-imposed dxoroi^ grounding in die keyboard works 
of Bach and the studies of Czerny and Cnuner, Obopin, Liszt, Alkan, Busoni (die Klavierubung) and 
Godowsky (the Studies on the Etudes <rf Chopin). Some of this practice was done using a Virgil 
Clavier (silent keyboard). At the same time, his unusually enquiring musical mind led him to absorb 
mudi of the important new music of the early years of this century. This put him, as a young 
musician in pre-First-World-War England, to a great deal of trouble as recordings of such music were 
virtually non-existent, performances rare and scores not easy to come by. As a result, however, he 
gained a wide-ranging and up-to-date knowledge of developments in music throughout all of Europe, 
from Albeniz and Granados at one end to Rakhmariinov, Skryabin and Medtner at the other. As well 
as firing off many enthusiasms within him, this irrepressible pursuit must have done wonders for his 
sight-playing abilities. Furthermore, he must have been a rarity amongst young musicians in Engknd 
at that time, being aware as he was of Mahler and Schonberg. 


His earliest extant musical works date from 1914 and his first critical essays and articles from 
about the same time. He met and played to Busoni in 1919 in London, as a result of which Busoni 
helped him get his First Piano Sonata published. Between about 1920 and 1936 he gave occasional 
public performances and broadcasts of some of his own work in London, Glasgow, Paris, Vienna and 
Bombay, althougji durii^ these years there seem to have been only four occasions on which anyone 
else performed any of hU music in public. Between 1918 and 1931, fourteen of his worb were 
published privately at his own and his father's expense and, in 1938, these publications all came under 
the selling agency of Oxford University Press Music Department, where those not yet sold out 
remained until 1988. 

In Glasgow in 1936, Sorabji made his last public appearance as pianist, giving on that occasion 
the premiere — and only performance so far — of his nine-movement Toccata Seconda. This seems 
to have been the year in which he finally decided to let it be known that he wished henceforward no 
further public hearings of any of his music without his consent, and he withheld that consent, almost 
without exception, fijr nearly forty years. 

Since he began his work as composer and author, a continuous stream (perhaps an Amazonian 
flow would be a fiiirer description) of musical works (until 1968) and of literary articles, concert and 
record reviews (imtil the 1940s) poured forth from him. Two books of his essays. Around Music and 
Mi Contra Ea, were published in London in 1932 and 1947 respectively. He concentrated less on his 
literary work after die 1940s, althoi^ a handfiil of articles and a plentiful supply of frequendy 
vituperative 'leners-to-the-editor' have appeared since then. 

Between 1962 and 1968, Sorabji's friend Frank HoUiday persuaded him to make private 
recordings (in the composer's home) of more than ten hours in total of his piano works, including the 
Second and Fourth Piano Symphonies, though these recordings were not intended for general 
circulation. In 1970, two pieces from this set of recordings, Gulistan and Concerto per Suonare da 
me Solo, were included in a three-hour broadcast in New York on Sorabji. This programme has since 
been repeated on other American FM stations. 


In 1954, Sorabji gave permission for some of his music manuscripts to be microfilmed and, on 
numerous^ further occasions from 1978, many more such microfilmings have taken place with a view 
to compiling as complete as possible a set of films of his musical works. 

In the mid-1970s, Sorabji began consenting to numerous performances, broadcasts and 
recordings of his compositions and, since that time, more than fifiy of them have been heard in 
public, including the First Organ Symphony and Opus Clavicembalisticum. 

1973 saw the resumption, after a short gap, of his activities as composer. The years between his 
80th and 90th birthdays were very busily productive ones for him and saw the composition of the 
Fifth and Sixth Piano Symphonies, several other solo piano works and a large rwo-movement piece 
for piano and small chamber orchestra. Furthermore, at the age of 88, he received — and completed 
— his first official commission, a fact all the more remarkable as the piece contains no keyboard part 
and is scored for chamber ensemble, both rare occurrences in Sorabii's output. He did not compose 
after 1984. 

His compositions range in dimensions from Frammenti aforistici for piano lasting five or six 
seconds, to the original version of his Symphonic Variations, also for piano, which probably plays for 
at least seven houts. They include songs, a few chamber works, three orgjul symphonies, eleven works 
for piano and orchestra, two vast choral-and-orchestral symphonies and an even larger Messa Alta 
Sinfbnica for the same forces. The bulk of his work, however, is for solo piano and includes at least 
sixteen pieces each having a duration well in excess of two hours. 

The 1 970s saw the inclusion of Sorabji s Pastiche on the Waltz, Op. 64, No. 1 ("Minute Waltz") 
by Chopin (the first of his Trois Pastiches of 1922) in an American anthology of 13 piano 
transcriptions of this waltz — this was the first publication of any music by Sorabji for over 40 years. 
Much more recently, in 1987, his Fantasiettina, composed in 1961 in honout ofHugh M'Diarmid's 
70th birthday the following year, was published in England by Bardic Edition of Aylesbury — this 
was the first time any music Sorabji composed since Opus Clavicembalisticiun (1929-30) has 
appeared in print. Many new editions of Sorabji's works have been prepared in the years since 1988, 


the largest to date being the Second Organ Symphony by Kevin Bowyer; this activity continues apace 
and is of crucial importance in enabling and encouraging more performances, recordings and 

Copyright ©1988 Alistair Hinton 
Revised 2002 


Chronological Ligt o( Works 

Composition Oato Dedicatee 

Transcription of "in a Summer Garden" (Delius) (pf) 1914 _ a 

"The Popiars" (Duiid, trans. Selver) ( (two versions) 1915 _ 

"Chrysilla" (de Regnier) ( 1915 _ 

"Roses du soir" (Louys) ( 1915 _ 

"L'heure exquise" (Veriaine) ( 1916 _ 

Vocalise (vpf) (two versions) 1916 _ 

Piano Concerto No. 1 (pf.orch) 1915-1916 R Heseitine ' 

"Apparition" (MaliarmJ) ( 1916 _ 

"Hymne k Aphrodite" (Talihade) ( (two versions) 1916 — 

Sonata (unnumbered) (pf) 1917 _ 

"L'^tang" (Rollinat) ( 1917 _ 

"I was not sorrowful" (Dowson) ( 1917 _ 

"Le mauvais jardlnler" (Gilkin) ( (incomplete) 1917 — 

Quasi habanera (pf) 1917 ^ P&sm 2 

D6sir 6perdu (pf) 1917 _ 

Piano Concerto No. 2 (pf.orch) (only i<nown to exist as 2-piano IVIS) 1 91 7 — 

Poem "Chaleur" (orch) 1917 _ 

Piano Concerto No. 3 (pf.orch) 1918 C. Trew^ 

In the Hothouse (pf) 1918 t Jenidns * 


Piann Hnnrprtn Wn 4 (nf nrrh^ 


Fantaisie espagnole (pf) 


N, Peterkin 

Sonata No. 1 (pf) 


F. Busoni 5 

Trois poemes { 


M. Martine ° 

(i) "Correspondances" (Baudelaire) 

(ii) "Cr^puscule du soir mystiQue" (Veriaine) 

(iii) "PsntomifTiB" (Vsrlalnc) 

Music to "The Rider by Night" (text, Robert Nichols) (vv.ens) (part lost) 


Tnrrata ^nf^ 


T. Jenkins 

"ARthA<tniiR" fSjiAmseddinl N of) 


R. Brittain ' 

Piann Oiiintpt Nn 1 /nf ^tr n\\ 


R Heseitine 

Pinnn Hnnrprtn Nn S fnf nrrh^ ^nuhlished as Wo 2^ 


A. Cortots 


F. Busoni 

Prelude Interlude and Fugue (pf) 


R. Brittain 

Sonata No. 3 (pf) 


A. Hinton 9 

Sympliony No. 1 ( 


lUI.IUI. Sorabji ^° 

TrniQ nflQtirhPQ lx\f\ 


i\\ Val'sp in D flat On 64 No 1 (Chooin) 

III V ulOv III L/ Mulf \J\J- IHU. » ^UMUJJIM^ 

"Hahanpra" frnm 'Tlarmpn" fRizfttl 
lui nauaiicio iiuiii xjoimiijii \uiz.>ji.y 

(iii) "Song of the Hindu Merchant" from "Sadlto" (Rimsky-Korsakov) 

C. ^-Becket Williams 

Piano Concerto No. 6 (pf.orch) (numbered "ill" in MS) 


"To Bernard" " 

nniKriiliim fnrrh^ 


J. Ireland 

Rapsodie espagnole (Ravei — transcription de concert 


(first version)) (pf) 

Le Jardin parfum^ (pf) 


C. ^Becket Wliiiams 


CinflUf! ^nnnRtti di Mirhpl/innpin Riinnarrnti hi nhamhar nrr>h\ 


Trois Fetes Galantes (Vsrlsine) ( 


MM. Sorabji 

(i) "L'altee" 

(ii) "A la promenade" 

(iii) "Dans la grotte" 

Piano Concerto No. 7 "Slmorg-Anka" (pf.chamber orch) 

H. Ellis " 

Organ Symphony No. 1 (org) 

c. Edrotf-bmitii 

Valse-fantaisle (Hommage a Johann Strauss) (pf) 

H.v. Ivlarrot 

Variations and Fugue on "Dies Irae" (pf) 


F. BusonI 

Trois DO^me^ rlii Riili^n rip ^a'rii /u nf\ 


E. Chlsholm " 

(i) "La lampe " 

(ii) "La jalousie" 

(iii) "La fidelity" 

Fragment (pf) (three versions) 

1 0OR/i QfiQH 0*37 

U □iil'lnnr^ 1 Ft 

H. Hutland '° 

"L'irrem6diable" (Baudelaire) ( 


B. Marcnesi 

Piano Concerto No. 8 (pf.orch) (numbered V in IVIS) 

A. oOiliO ai oOllS 

Toccata No. 1 (pf) 

D. oFomage ^ ' 

Dl§mt (of) 


D U Dam* 99 

R.N. Best " 

Sonata No. 4 (pf) 

p.b. oCuII " 

Passacaglia (pf) (unfinished) 


Toccatinetta (pf) 


u. uray-riSK " 

Opus Clavicembalisticum (pf) 


H. WOlannldK 

Symphony (complete piano part of abandoned work for piano, 


E. Chlstiolm 

orctiestra, soli and chorus) 


Vocalise (Movement) ( 
Organ Symphony No. 2 (org) 
Piano Quintet No. 2 (pf.str qt) 
Fantasia ispanica (pf) 

Pasticcio capriccioso (Valse in D flat Op. 64 No. 1 (Chopin)) (pf) 

Toccata No. 2 (pf) 

Sonata No. 5 "Opus Arcliimagicum" (pf) 

Symphonic Variations (pf) 

Symphony No. 1 "Tantril<" (pf) 

Chromatic Fantasia (J. S. Bach — piano transcription with 

a different Bach fugue) (pf) 
Quaere reliqua huius materiei inter secretiora 

(based on a short story by M.R. James) (pf) 
Gulistan (the Rose Garden (Sa'di)) (pf> 
St Bertrand de Comminges "He was laughing in the Tower" 

(based on a short story by M.R. James) (pf) 
Trois chants ( 

(i) "Le faune" (Verlaine) 

(11) "Les chats" (Baudelaire) 

(iii) "La derniere fete galante" (Verlaine) 
One Hundred Transcendental Studies (pf) 
Rapsodle espagnole (Ravel — transcription de concert 

(second version)) (pf) 
Prelude in E fiat (J.S. Bach — piano transcription) (pf) 

1927-1931 M.M. Sorabji 

1929-1932 E. Emiyn Davies^e 

1932- 1933 D. Saurat27 
1933 A. Rowley 29 
1933 M.H/l Sorabji 

1933- 1934 N. Peterldn 

1934- 1935 C. Gray-Fisk 

1 935- 1 937 E, Clarke Ashworth ^ 
1938-1939 E. Chlsholm 

1940 E. Edroff-Smith 

1940 "To E. With Love" 

1940 H. Morland 

1941 E. Nason 

1941 J.McArden/H.J.Cooper33 

1940-1944 H. Welsh 3< 

1945 — 

1945 R.N. Best 


Concerto per suonare da me solo (pf) 


N. Peterkin 

Closing scene from "Salome" (R. Strauss — concert paraphrase) (pf) 



Sequentia Cyclica super dies irae ex missa pro defunctis 


E. Petri 35 

In clavlcembali usum (pf) 

Symphony No. 2 "JamI" ( 


M. Vicars * 

Organ Symphony No. 3 (org) 


N. Gentieu 3' 

Un nido di scatols (pf) 


H. Rutland 

Symphony No. 2 (pf) 


H. Norland 

Toccata No. 3 (pf) (lost) 


C. Gray-Flsk 

Passegglata venezlana (based on the Barcarolle from "The Tales of Hoffman" 


Y. Bowen 38 

(UttenDach)) (pf) 

Symphonic Variations (pf .orch) (adapted from piano vrork of the same title) 



Rosarlo d'arabeschi (pf) 


S. SItweil 39 

Opus Clavisymphonicum (pf.orch) 


J. Ireland 

Symphony No. 3 (pf) 


G. Richards ^ 

Suggested bell-chorale for St. Luke's Carillon (Campanile of St Luke's 


N. Gentieu 

Church, Germantown, Philadelphia) (bells) 

Fantaslettina sul nome lllustre dell'egreglo poela Christopher Grieve 


H. M'Diarmid 

ossia Hugh M'Diarmid (pf) 

Messa alta sinfonica ( 


R,N. Best 

Symphony No. 4 (pf) 


H. Rutland 

20 Frammenti aforistici (pf) 


H. Morland 

Toccata No. 4 (pf) 



Frammento cantato ( 


H. Morland 


Concertino non grosso ( 


M. Vicars 

103 Frammenti aforistici (Sutras) (pf) 


D. Garvelmann *^ 

Benedizione di San Francesco d'Assisi ( 



Symphony No. 5 (Symphonia brevis) (pf) 


A. Hinton 

Variazlone maliziosa e perversa sopra "La morte d'Ase" da Grieg (pf) 


A. Hinton 

Opusculum Clavisymphonicum (pf.chamber otch) 


A. Hinton 

Symphony No. 6 (Symphonia clavlensis, Symphonia magna) (pf) 


A. Hinton 

4 Frammenti aforistici (pf) 


A. Hinton 

Symphonic Nocturne (pf) 


A. Hinton 

II Grido del gallino d'oro (variations and fugue on a theme from 


M. Habermann 

"Le Coq d'Or" (Rimsky-Korsakov)) (pf) 

II Tessuto d'aratwschi (fl.str qt) 


To the memory of 

F. Delius ^ 

Villa Tasca (pf) 


R. Stevenson <5 

Opus Secretum (pf) 


K. Derus 

Passegglata variata (pf) 


C. Spencer-Bentle 

Sutra sul nome dell'amico "Alexis" (pf) 


R.W. Procter* 

Fantaslettina atematica ( 


A. Burton-Page ^9 

Passegglata arlecchinesca (pf) 


G.D. Madge 

Sutra "per 11 caro amk;o quasi NIpote - 'Alexis'" (pf) 


R.W. Procter 


a. This transcription was known from Sorabji's correspondence with Philip Heseltine to have been a 
work in progress in September, 1914. It was not clear whether Sorabji had completed It. The 

manuscript of the complete transcription is now thought to be in a private coliection in the U.S.A. 

1 . The composer Peter Warlock. There was a long correspondence between Heseltine and Sorabji. 

2. Scottish composer and life-long friend of Sorabji. Peterkin arranged for Sorabji's early 
publications to come under the seiiing agency of O.U.R 

3. Charles Trew. Sorabji's harmony and counterpoint teacher, from the years before any of the 
extant works were written. 

4. Friend of the composer. 

5. See "Around Kaikhosru Sorabji" and "Notes on the Life and Career of Sorabji". 

6. Marthe Martlne, soprano. She premiered the "Trols po6mes" with the composer, In Parte, WZ^ . 

7. One of the composer's many friends who were not directly connected with the world of nnusic — 
Rex Brittain was a barrister. 

8. The famous pianist. He expressed Interest In Sorabji's works, but never performed ar^ in 
public. They met in 1920. 

9. Allstair HInton. Composer. Sorabji's closest friend from the 1 970s. It was mainly due to his efforts 
that Sorabji was persuaded to give permission for the performance of his music in recent years. 
He founded and is curator of The Sorabji Archive, and is now acting on Sorabji's behalf in all 
matters pertaining to his work. The 1973 dedication of the 1922 3rd Sonata was, of course, 
retrospective; an inscription in Sorabji's hand on the copy of its publication which he gave to 
Hinton in 1973 suggests that there was another dedicatee at the time of its composition, but no 
name Is mentioned and the Identity of that dedicatee remains unknown. Hinton met Sorabji for 
the first time in 1972. 

10. Madeiaine IVIathilde Sorabji, the composer's mother. 


11. Christopher a-Becket Williams. Composer. Sorabji presented him with the manuscript of the 
6th piano concerto, which was kindly given to The Sorabji Archive by the dedicatee's daughter 

in 1988. 

12. Probably Bernard Bromage (see note 21 below), as it seems improbable that Sorabji knew 
Bernard van Dieren (later a close friend) personally at this time. 

13. The composer John Ireland. He and Sorabji corresponded for about 30 years. 

14. Havelock Ellis, psychologist and pioneering writer on the psychology of sexuality 

15. Emily Edroff-Smith was a piano teacher, and a close friend of the composer's mother. She was 
known as "Aunty Edroff" in the family 

16. Friend of the composer. 

17. Erik Chisholm (1904-1965) founded the "Active Society for the Propagation of Contemporary 
Music" which existed in Glasgow in the 1920s and 1930s. Among the leading figures who gave 
concerts and talks for the Society were Berg (perhaps; this has never been conclusively 
substantiated), van Dieren, Hindemith, Szymanowski, and Bartok, as well as Sorabji. Chisholm 
was a composer, pianist, organist and conductor He was subsequently Dean of the Faculty of 
Music at the University of Cape Town. 

18. Harold Rutland was a pianist, and Professor of Piano at Trinity College of Music. He performed 
the "Fragment", and was a lifelong champion of the composer's music. 

19. Blanche Marchesi. Soprano. Sorabji devoted a chapter of his book "Mi Contra Fa" to her. His 
"Villa Tasca" from 1 979-1 980 contains a passage which refers to her rendition of a Sicilian folksong. 

20. Count Aldo Soiito di Soils. Italian pianist. Sorabji wrote several favourable reviews of his 

21. Bernard Bromage. He proof-read (albeit inadequately) Sorabji's first book "Around Music". The 
dedication appears on the microfilm of the manuscript, which was made in the 1950s, but was 
later removed from the manuscript itself. 


22. Reginald Best, the composer's companion In his later years. 

23. Francis George Scott was a Scots composer, especially of songs, some of wtilch are among the 

finest written In the 20th century. Championed by Hugh M'DlarmId, who wrote about him In his 
poetry and the autobiographical "The Company I've Kept", Scott has now fallen into undeserved 
neglect. Sorabjl's "Ml Contra Fa" contains a highly enthusiastic essay on Scott's songs. 

24. Critic, and close friend of the composer. He wrote at least one highly complimentary article about 


25. Hugh M'DlarmId (Christopher Murray Grieve), the Scots poet. One of the most Influential figures 
in the Scottish arts. A polymathic intellect with an inclination toward epic forms in his own work, 
it is scarcely surprising that he and Sorabji found each other to be kindred spirits. The first essay 
in iVI'Diarmld's autobiographical "The Company I've Kept" (Hutchinson, 1966) concerns Sorabji, 
and contains a passage of poetry adapted from the author's "On a Raised Beach" in tribute to 
Sorabji, which ends: "Great work cannot be combined with surrender to the crowd", in a 
pleasing example of the wheel turning full circle, this text has been set to music by Allstair HInton 
(q.v.) in response to a commission which arose indirectly from Hinton's association with the 
present recording. See also "Fantasiettlna ..." (1961). 

26. Organist. He performed the middle movement of the composer's Organ Symphony No. 1 in 1928, 
this being the work's first and only performance until 1987, and, incidentally, one of the very few 
occasions on which Sorabji heard his music performed by anyone else. 

27. Denis Saurat. French philosopher; a political and philosophical thinker highly regarded by Sorabji. 
One-time head of the institut Frangais. 

28. Pianist and professor at the Royal Academy of Music. 

29. Edward Clarke Ashworth wrote an excellent review of the publication of Opus Clavicembalistlcum. 

30. This was probably Edward Nason, to whom the other piece Inspired by an M.R. James ghost story 
was dedicated. Based on correspondence between Sorabji and Frank Holliday, it has also been 


suggested that it could have been Edward Clarke Ashworth. The composer denied this in 
conversation with Allstair HInton, and insisted that the dedicatee was, Indeed, Nason. 

31 . Harold Morland, poet (he refers to Sorabji in several of his poems). Friend of the composer since 
the 1930s. 

32. Friend of the composer. See note 30 above. 

33. Joy McArden and James Cooper. Soprano/pianist and wife/husband. They performed the "Trois 
chants" in the composer's presence, privately, and were given permission to broadcast them. 
There is no record of such a broadcast having taken place. 

34. Henry Welsh. Friend of the composer. 

35. Egon Petri. A Busoni pupil, he became a close friend of Sorabji. He contemplated playing Opus 
Clavicembailsticum but never actually did so. Interestingly, a propos the present recording, he 
was John Ogdon's teacher. 

36. Mervyn Vicars. Composer and cellist. A friend of the composer for many years, he wrote a work 
for piano and orchestra on themes from Opus Cfavlcembansticum. 

37. Norman Gentieu first suggested to Sorabji that all his manuscripts should be microfilmed, and 
created a (largely fictitious) "Society of Connoisseurs" to facilitate this project. 

38. York Bowen, the English composer-pianist. He dedicated his 24 Preludes for piano to Sorabji. 

39. Sir Sacheverell SItwell, who wrote, In 1976, "It is a privilege to have been asked to write these 
few words In praise and welcome to my old friend Kaikhosru Sorabji whom I have known, I think, 
since 19181 a most vital, amusing and energising influence In all he said or wrote ... 
Personally I have every sympathy with him over the aristocratic seclusion Into which he has with- 
drawn and which I find both enviable and dignified." (Programme note for Yonty Solomon's 
Wigmore Hall concert, 7th December 1976). 

40. At the disastrous 1936 London performance of the first part of Opus Clavicembalistlcum there 
were, apparently, protests from the audience on Sorabjl's behalf, concerning the quality of the 


performance. According to the composer, George Richards was the loudest protestor. 

41. Paul Rapoport Is a musicologist, critic, writer and composer in Canada. He edited the 
symposium "Sorabji - A Critical Celebration" (Scolar Press, 1992). 

42. Donald Garvelmann scripted and presented the three-hour broadcast about Sorabji on Radio 
WNCN New York, In 1970. 

43. Michael Habermann, American pianist. He has performed and recorded a number of Sorabji's 

44. Sorabji was a lifelong admirer of Delius, who In turn praised "Le Jardin ParfumS" when he heard 
it broadcast In 1930. In a letter to the composer, he wrote that the piece "... interested me very 
much. There Is real sensuous beauty in it." 

45. Ronald Stevenson. Scots composer-pianist. One of the most extraordinary musicians of our time. 
A pianist of unique Insight and prolific composer in many forms, especially song and piano 
music, he is also one of the world's leading authorities on Busoni and Grainger, among others. 
He has recorded Sorabji's "Fantasiettina ..." for Altarus Records. 

46. Kenneth Derus has published a collection, with commentary, of the Sorabji-Heseltine 
correspondence (in "Sorabji - A Critical Celebration", ed. Rapoport [Scolar Press, 1992]). 

47. Olive Spencer-Bentley. Composer, currently working as a schoolteacher Friend of the composer 
in his later years. The "Passeggiata Variata" was a 21st birthday present for Spencer-Bentley. 

48. Robert W. Procter. Friend of the composer. "Alexis" was a nickname. The composer Incorrectly 
dated the first of these pieces "1971" (using Roman numerals, as was his custom, this is an easy 
mistake to make). He did not know the dedicatee in 1971, and the manuscript paper on which 
they were written vras of the type he adopted after 1973, which suggests the later date. It now 
appears that the second "Alexis" Sutra is the composer's last work. 

49. Anthony Burton-Page. IVlusician and teacher. Friend of the composer in his later years. 

50. Geoffrey Douglas Madge. Australian pianist. He has performed wori(s of Sorabji Internationally